Doug Wolter: A most respectful, and maddening, rivalry
Area girls basketball coaches Randy Strand and Gregg Slaathaug have been driving each other crazy for 12 years. Fans have benefited. Their antics during games are, in some cases, as entertaining as the action on the floor.
Slaathaug believes Strand enjoys being a distraction to his rival coach. For instance, when Strand raises three fingers to call the officials' attention to a 3-point shot, Slaathaug claims, he's also attempting to get inside the head of his rival mentor.
There are few high school rivalries as interesting as the rivalry between Strand's Adrian Dragons and Slaathaug's Fulda Raiders, and to hear Slaathaug explain it, it's not difficult to understand why.
"I always want to compete against the best. (Strand) brings out the most competitive fire out of anyone, but my little brother, that I ever met," he said.
Strand is the newest member to be inducted into the Minnesota Girls Basketball Hall of Fame. A graduate of Tracy High School in 1974 and Moorhead State University in 1978, he served as assistant boys basketball coach in Adrian for six years before beginning his long and successful career as the Dragons' girls basketball head coach. In 27 years at the helm, he has won 428 games (a solid 70 percent) and has won at least 20 games in 10 seasons. He has eight Red Rock Conference titles to his credit, three appearances at the Section 3A finals and a state tournament appearance in 2009.
When Strand received the Hall of Fame phone call, it took him a few moments to understand what he was about to hear. "I was surprised," he said. "I actually thought they were calling for a reference for another coach they were thinking about putting in."
The veteran coach and educator, now 57, remembers the time he took the Adrian job. He'd asked his mother if he should accept the position offered at the small southwest Minnesota school. His mom told him to take it; a job is a job, and he could always move on to a bigger school later.
But Strand soon fell in love with the students, the school and the community of Adrian.
"When you like something, you might as well stay," he says today.
He says he still enjoys "the thrill of seeing the kids' rewards for the things they do." He's certainly experienced more than his share of those thrills, and not just in girls basketball. He has been the head football coach at AHS for 28 years, and in that time he's led the Dragons to six state tournaments and four state finals.
But it's on the basketball court, in Slaathaug's estimation, that Strand becomes a most annoying opponent.
"It's like playing your older brother in a game of one-on-one," maintains the 12-year Fulda head coach.
Surely, it's largely because of the coaches' personal rivalry that the Fulda-Adrian girls basketball rivalry has grown over the years.
"No matter what, he's always looking for every possible angle to help his team win. And I'm the same way," Slaathaug said this week, adding, just to set the record straight --"I really like the man except for the two or three times we compete against each other during the year."
And you could take that to the bank. After all, it was Slaathaug who nominated Strand for the Hall.