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submitted photo Ty Wacker (headset) while he was coaching Minnesota West (Worthington Community College) football in the 1970s.

Pair of state championships earn Wacker HOF nod

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Pair of state championships earn Wacker HOF nod
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

JACKSON -- Having wanted to become a high school football coach since "begging" to become the Stewart High School's team manager as a fourth grader in the fall of 1954, Tyrone "Ty" Wacker was recently honored for his highly-successful 26 seasons of doing just want he always to do.

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Wacker, who became the head football coach at Gaylord High School in the fall of 1967 and later was Jackson's head coach for 10 seasons and an assistant at Jackson County Central for eight campaigns, was selected to the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Double Tree Hotel in Minneapolis March 31.

"I always wanted to coach football," said Wacker in a recent phone conversation from Sioux City, Iowa where he is currently an assistant baseball coach at Morningside College. "I love baseball, it's the best hobby I've ever had. But football was always something really special. I just was so intrigued with the game and everything about it."

Growing up in an athletic family in the small town of Stewart -- along Highway 212, about 20 miles southwest of Hutchinson -- Wacker became a multiple-sport star for the Gophers in the early 1960s, excelling in football, basketball, baseball and track at SHS.

"I liked all the sports, but football was my favorite," recalled Wacker, who played on a trio of undefeated gridiron teams at Stewart during his freshman, junior and senior seasons in the autumns of 1958, 1960 and 1961, respectively. "I think I enjoyed football so much because we won all the time.

"Our team during my junior year in 1960 was really something. We had fast guys who were tough kids. We just had athletes "coming out of the walls" at Stewart."

Among those outstanding all-around athletes that Wacker played with at Stewart was Dick Barnes, who was a year older than Wacker and after an All-American baseball career at South Dakota State University, signed a professional baseball contract with the Minnesota Twins, pitching several seasons in the minor leagues.

Wacker also played against Danube's Bob Bruggers, who drew a standing ovation at the 1962 one-class Minnesota State High School basketball tournament. After playing football for the Minnesota Gophers, Bruggers played linebacker for five seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers.

"We beat Danube in football," remembered Wacker. "But, we couldn't beat them in basketball, Bruggers was just so good. He was a big, athletic kid who excelled in the shot put and discus in track. In baseball, I could throw pretty hard my senior year and was pitching to Bruggers, who I had struck out a couple of times. Then he hits two way over the fence, with the second one landing on the roof of a house across the road. I've never been so humbled."

Six years at Gaylord, capped by '72 title

As a fourth grader, Wacker went to the high school football practices at Stewart. The Gophers were in their first season of 11-man football -- after having played eight-man like many schools before that.

"I sat on the steps of the school and watched practices," Wacker recalled. "I just fell in love with football and would go home and draw up plays on the back of these 7-Up posters that my parents had at home."

Wacker asked legendary SHS coach Ken Gulbrandson if he could become the team's manager, which locked in Ty's enthusiasm for the game even more.

Gulbrandson coached the Gophers through the 1967 season, including those three undefeated teams when Wacker was a running back on offense and a hard-hitting linebacker on defense.

After a brief stay at Mankato State, Wacker transferred to Mayville State College in North Dakota and played both baseball and football, starting two seasons for the Comets as a defensive back.

Completing his teaching and coaching degree in 1967, Wacker quickly realized a "dream come true" when he accepted the head football coaching position at Gaylord, a member of the Tomahawk Conference.

While playing amateur baseball every summer in Gaylord -- with GHS head basketball coach Darrell Kreun, the sharp-shooting guard on Edgerton's 1960 state championship team -- Wacker was the school's head track and field coach in the spring.

"I just thought that track worked better with football," Wacker explained. "We had some great track teams at Gaylord because we had fast kids and had an outstanding assistant coach in Windom's Doug Purrington."

Gaylord, in fact, won the Class A state championship in track and field in 1974, the year after Wacker left.

But, before leaving town, Ty put the capper on an amazing 56-4 career with Spartans.

After going 8-1 in his inaugural season, Gaylord put together back-to-back undefeated campaigns in both 1968 and 1969.

But the high school football playoffs in Minnesota were still a few years away.

The Spartans lost two games in 1970, including a post-season contest to Mountain Lake in game between the Tomahawk champions and the Seven Star Conference champs.

After just one loss in '71, Gaylord finished the year with a 49-0 win over Fulda, which had won the Seven Star that season.

Then came 1972 and Wacker's third undefeated regular season, which included a league victory over a tough Springfield squad.

In the first year of the playoff system, Gaylord won the Class C state title by posting victories over Renville (at Redwood Falls), Henning (at Hutchinson) and Preston (26-7) at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter to finish a perfect 12-0 season.

"We had the fastest guys," summed up Wacker about the reason for Gaylord's phenomenal success. "We had athletes. Several of these kids played on the basketball team that made it to the state tournament in 1973, we had great wrestlers and some great relay teams in the spring that had all football players on them."

But after six great seasons, Wacker got the "bug" to become a college coach and spent a year at Brookings, S.D. earning his master's degree and serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Jackrabbits' football at SDSU.

"That was a great experience," recalled Wacker. "I learned a lot and became accustomed to some of the differences between high school and college football."

Coaching at WCC from 1974-1978

"We beat Danube in football," remembered Wacker. "But, we couldn't beat them in basketball, Bruggers was just so good. He was a big, athletic kid who excelled in the shot put and discus in track. In baseball, I could throw pretty hard my senior year and was pitching to Bruggers, who I had struck out a couple of times. Then he hits two way over the fence, with the second one landing on the roof of a house across the road. I've never been so humbled."

Six years at Gaylord, capped by '72 title

As a fourth grader, Wacker went to the high school football practices at Stewart. The Gophers were in their first season of 11-man football -- after having played eight-man like many schools before that.

"I sat on the steps of the school and watched practices," Wacker recalled. "I just fell in love with football and would go home and draw up plays on the back of these 7-Up posters that my parents had at home."

Wacker asked legendary SHS coach Ken Gulbrandson if he could become the team's manager, which locked in Ty's enthusiasm for the game even more.

Gulbrandson coached the Gophers through the 1967 season, including those three undefeated teams when Wacker was a running back on offense and a hard-hitting linebacker on defense.

After a brief stay at Mankato State, Wacker transferred to Mayville State College in North Dakota and played both baseball and football, starting two seasons for the Comets as a defensive back.

Completing his teaching and coaching degree in 1967, Wacker quickly realized a "dream come true" when he accepted the head football coaching position at Gaylord, a member of the Tomahawk Conference.

While playing amateur baseball every summer in Gaylord -- with GHS head basketball coach Darrell Kreun, the sharp-shooting guard on Edgerton's 1960 state championship team -- Wacker was the school's head track and field coach in the spring.

"I just thought that track worked better with football," Wacker explained. "We had some great track teams at Gaylord because we had fast kids and had an outstanding assistant coach in Windom's Doug Purrington."

Gaylord, in fact, won the Class A state championship in track and field in 1974, the year after Wacker left.

But, before leaving town, Ty put the capper on an amazing 56-4 football career with the Spartans.

After going 8-1 in his inaugural season, Gaylord put together back-to-back undefeated campaigns in both 1968 and 1969.

But the high school football playoffs in Minnesota were still a few years away.

The Spartans lost two games in 1970, including a post-season contest to Mountain Lake in game between the Tomahawk champions and the Seven Star Conference champs.

After just one loss in '71, Gaylord finished the year with a 49-0 win over Fulda, which had won the Seven Star that season.

Then came 1972 and Wacker's third undefeated regular season, which included a league victory over a tough Springfield squad.

In the first year of the playoff system, Gaylord won the Class C state title by posting victories over Renville (at Redwood Falls), Henning (at Hutchinson) and Preston (26-7) at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter to finish a perfect 12-0 season.

"We had the fastest guys," summed up Wacker about the reason for Gaylord's phenomenal success. "We had athletes. Several of these kids played on the basketball team that made it to the state tournament in 1973, we had great wrestlers and some great relay teams in the spring that had all football players on them."

But after six great seasons, Wacker got the "bug" to become a college coach and spent a year at Brookings, S.D. earning his master's degree and serving as a graduate assistant coach for the Jackrabbits' football team at SDSU.

"That was a great experience," recalled Wacker. "I learned a lot and became accustomed to some of the differences between high school and college football."

Coaching at WCC from 1974-1978

For the next five seasons, Wacker coached football at Worthington Community College, guiding the Bluejays from 1974-1978.

"We competed well and it was fun," said Wacker about his years at the local college. "We had all local kids, very seldom getting anyone from more than 100 miles away.

"There was a good mix of kids from the bigger towns like Worthington, Luverne, Pipestone, Windom and Jackson. But we also had lots of good players from the smaller towns like Round Lake, Heron Lake, Edgerton, Sioux Valley, Lakefield, Brewster, Magnolia, Adrian, Jeffers, Westbrook and others. They all blended in well together, but it was frustrating to have only two years with these kids."

Brad Iverson, a running back from Heron Lake, played for Wacker in the fall of '77.

"Tyrone was a great coach with amazing intensity and passion for the game. I loved playing football for him," summed up the fleet-footed Iverson, who has his own passion for history, especially the Civil War, these days.

While in Worthington, Wacker also coached the Bluejays' baseball team for a couple of seasons, officiated high school basketball games with Morris Marcotte and also played lots of independent basketball.

"The years in Worthington were good ones," recalled Wacker. "I made a lot of friends and just had a great time."

On to Huron College four seasons, '79-82, before coming to Jackson in 1983

Wacker's next move was to a small four-year college in Huron, S.D. where he was the head football and baseball coach for four years.

While Wacker's baseball teams won 99 games in four seasons, the football coaching "gig" didn't turn out the way he hoped.

"What was discouraging was that I just couldn't get the local kids recruited like I had been able to at Worthington," summed up Wacker about his four seasons with the Scalpers. "I just decided that I really loved coaching high school football and wanted to get back to that."

He got that chance with Jackson, beginning in the fall of 1983.

"High school football, the competition on Friday nights, that's really living," he declared. "Getting the chance to coach high school football coach again was a real thrill and Jackson was a perfect fit."

And a challenge, which Wacker was ready to meet.

Inheriting a team that had only won one game the year before, Wacker guided the Bluejays to a share of the Southwest Conference championship (with Worthington and Marshall) that first season.

Two years later, Jackson won the 1985 Class B state championship, capping a remarkable 13-1 season with a 26-20 victory over Mahnomen at Prep Bowl IV.

Jackson's John Lilleberg, Jr. was a senior wide receiver on that state title team, catching many passes throughout the season from Wacker's son Wade, a junior quarterback, who is now JCC's offensive coordinator.

"Coach Wacker was such an outstanding organizer and motivator," summed up Lilleberg, a two-year starter for JHS, who also played defensive back. "He always had us prepared and pumped up to play each game. Somehow, he always convinced us that who were playing was the best team we have seen yet, so we were never overconfident."

Wacker stayed on as the Bluejays' head coach through the fall of 1992, finishing 10 seasons with a 57-41 win-loss record, including four conference titles and two section championships.

"Every ounce of football knowledge I have acquired either came directly from Coach Wacker or was learned by his pushing me to find," declared current JCC head coach Tom Schuller, who was Wacker's assistant for several seasons. "I have been very fortunate to have such a great friend and mentor.

"It has been a thrill coaching with such a great competitor and loyal friend. Ty Wacker is certainly deserving of the honor of being inducted into the high school football coaches Hall of Fame."

After five seasons off ('93-97), Wacker returned to the field in the fall of 1998, as Schuller's assistant at JCC and helped the Huskies win another state football championship in 2001.

"I never knew how much fun coaching could be until I became an assistant," described Wacker, who had only been a head coach throughout his entire career. "Those years working with Tom were really enjoyable."

But the urge to become a head coach bit Wacker again and he spent two seasons ('06, '07) striving to build the program at Buffalo Lake-Hector, near his hometown of Stewart.

"I enjoyed being a head coach again," Wacker said. "But I had visions of another Gaylord -- which just wasn't in the cards. Those years at Gaylord, wasn't the real world. We just had such an incredible group of athletes -- size, speed, smarts -- it was an amazing way to start a career."

Wacker also was the head basketball coach at BL-H for one season, making him somewhat unique in the high school coaching ranks -- having been a head coach in four sports.

"I had fun coaching basketball," Wacker said. "But, gee whiz, things happened so fast. I didn't have 25 seconds between plays to think of something to call next."

From 1998-2009, Wacker was JCC's head baseball coach. The Huskies won 197 games during those 12 campaigns, including section championships -- and state tournament trips -- in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Wacker's 2004 team won a state championship, his third one as a head coach.

"That was a thrill, no doubt it, we had several really good baseball teams at JCC," concluded Wacker, who also played amateur baseball with the Jackson Bulls for nearly 20 years, retiring in 2003 at age 59.

He did continue playing, however, in a traveling senior league until a ruptured achilles tendon ended his baseball career for good.

"That was painful, to say the least," said Wacker, who is a member of Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.

Son's tragic death changes attitude

Looking back on his long coaching career, Wacker admits that he often was too serious.

"I think I took it -- especially football -- too seriously to really enjoy it."

What really changed things was his son Lincoln's tragic death in 1999. While traveling home from coaching a high school football game in Belle Plaine, Lincoln was killed in an automobile accident by a drunk driver.

"When Lincoln died, I realized that winning wasn't so important. It put things in perspective and I changed my attitude.

"Worthington's Dennis Hale, who was one of the best coaches I ever competed against, mentioned that to me after our game a couple of weeks later and he sure was right. Lincoln meant more to me than any number of wins."

And then there has been his high school sweetheart Vereen, a girl from nearby Hector, who he started dating in 1960 and married in '65.

"Vereen has been in my corner all along," declared Wacker. "She has been with me through the good times and bad. She always had a way to make things better. I couldn't imagine having done all the things I was able to do without her caring support."

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