Willmar notebook: Some memories last a lifetime

In the Tuesday morning mail, I happily received a Christmas card from Coach Abe, my high school football coach. He lives in Florida where he moved in 1965 after coaching the Cadillac Vikings to back-to-back 8-0 seasons and the mythical Michigan C...

Coaches do matter
Coaches do matter: Blue Line Arena, 2004. TRIBUNE / file photo

In the Tuesday morning mail, I happily received a Christmas card from Coach Abe, my high school football coach. He lives in Florida where he moved in 1965 after coaching the Cadillac Vikings to back-to-back 8-0 seasons and the mythical Michigan Class B state championships each year.
I played offensive guard on the first of those two teams, 52 years ago this fall, and those were some of the best days of my life.
Dick Abraham, who played football at Michigan State in the mid ’50s, sold shoes at a store on Main Street on Saturday to supplement his school income.
In 1961 when the team went to Manistee to play the undefeated Chippewas, Abe made a stirring speech in the little locker room. He told us, “They put on their pants one leg at a time, just like you guys.” How wise. Right there he had leveled the playing field.
We got beat pretty good anyways, but the next fall, at Viking Stadium, pants on the ground we pounded the Chipps 74-12.
Looking back, the wins and losses of those years matter in memory not at all. What remains is the recollection of the sheer delight of being part of a team and playing the game.
Hockey heaven
Football is terrific but I can’t say anything was any more fun than playing hockey on an outdoor rink. Diggins Park was a two-mile uphill walk (both ways) from our home on Chapin Street.
I could barely skate but my parents outfitted me with skates and a stick. Perhaps not sure of my commitment, they held off on buying shin pads and instead wrapped my shins in Post magazines.
Wiry Soup Springberg, who worked in the local tire plant, coached our fifth grade team. The jersey said C.I.O., which I believe stood for Congress of Industrial Organizations. “Win one for Organized Labor!” was our chant. (Kidding)
On the weekend, we played shinny hockey all day long and into the night with Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” roaring from the loudspeaker.
We live across the street from Garfield Park, which with the right conditions has the best outdoor ice in the Hockey State. “Garfield Gardens” and Lincoln, North Side and Hilltop are where the great skaters of the ’70s and ’80s developed their skills.
Rinks were within walking distance. City sprawl means times are different. The rink is uncrowded on weekends; few youth teams practice outdoors any longer.
Still, there is a passion for the sport.
Numbers up
Matt Dawson, who grew up a block from Garfield’s basement warming house, was Central Lakes Conference first-team All-Conference on the ’86-87 team.
He is now giving back as a member of Willmar hockey. So are other former Cardinals and others who have moved to the community.
He’s excited that the girls numbers are up showing 20 fifth- and sixth-graders and 16 second- and third-graders.
The youth program has eight travel teams: Bantam (eighth and ninth grade), PeeWee (sixth and seventh) and Squirt (fourth and fifth) each have two teams. 10U girls and 12U each field one team.
Total numbers, including mites and rec hockey, have increased from 140 in 2011-12 to 193 this winter.
“It has been a team effort on many fronts to get new families to come out to the arena,” Matt said in a recent email. Many have contributed. To mention a few: Darin Strand, Jim Anderson, Jamie Hagen, JaColby Anderson, Rick Dahle, Tony Amon and Civic Center manager Troy Ciernia.
Also catching fire is the adult hockey leagues on Sunday and Wednesday evening with credit going especially to Judd Duininck, Don Asche and Rob Baumgarn.
Dawson said: “People that played in the program are coming back to help and the focus is to compete hard, make new friends and give the kids life lessons they will have forever.”
On the fly
n Dave Aus, who played with Dawson on the Cardinal hockey team that finished in 1986-87, is the new coach at Brainerd. The Warriors are off to a 3-2 start, including a 4-2 win at the Cardinal Arena on Dec. 4.
n Ben Burgett, Community Christian School cross country and track athlete, made official visits to Grand Canyon College in Phoenix and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, last week. He ran with the Bears cross country team in practice twice and was a special guest with his parents for the Kansas State vs. the Bears football game on Saturday.
n Holiday lineup: the boys basketball Bremer Holiday Classic brings in BOLD, BBE, Benson, MACCRAY, New London-Spicer and Sauk Centre on Dec. 26-27. Willmar will play Benson and NLS. The girls West Central Tribune WildCat Tournament at New London Dec. 29-30 returns Albany and Minnehaha Academy. The boys hockey team is at the Little Falls’ tourney and the girls at Austin.
n Kennedy Holwerda (Willmar) swam for Gustavus at the two-day Jean Freeman Invitational at the University of Minnesota. She recorded times of 1:03.17 in the 100 back and 2:17.19 in the 200 back.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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