BLAST FROM THE PAST: Many highlights in 35 seasons, including the stellar support of Dean and DoloresOKABENA — After 35 winter seasons of coaching high school girls’ basketball, I made a difficult decision last spring to switch over and become the B-squad coach and varsity assistant for the boys’ basketball program at Southwest Star Concept High School, which represents the Heron Lake-Okabena School District.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
OKABENA — After 35 winter seasons of coaching high school girls’ basketball, I made a difficult decision last spring to switch over and become the B-squad coach and varsity assistant for the boys’ basketball program at Southwest Star Concept High School, which represents the Heron Lake-Okabena School District.
While this new opportunity is providing an exciting challenge, I do reflect back on many great memories of my involvement with the girls’ program at Heron Lake High School (1975-78), Heron Lake-Okabena High School (‘78-87), Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield High School (‘87-97) and SSC (1997-2010).
Hired by Superintendent Bill Stearns back in the summer of 1975, I was Marlys Johnson’s assistant coach during my first full year of teaching in the winter of ‘75-76. Coaching the girls’ B-squad was a genuine challenge —- but very rewarding, as our freshmen and sophomore girls won 11 of the 13 games they played and improved their basketball fundamentals, as well as their “basketball sense.”
It was a fun winter and I will always remember sophomores Laurie Caauwe, Karen Carlson, Melody Koehn, Janet Pelzel, Jo Anne Vanderheiden and Karen Volk; along with freshmen Roxann Collin, Tracy Flatebo, Debbie Garoutte, Lesle Leopold, Tresa Libra, Judy Mathias and Dawn Olson as members of my first basketball team.
Mrs. Johnson moved north at the end of the school year and Mr. Stearns, along with HLHS athletic director Arnie Luhning, recommended me to become the head coach.
For two seasons at HLHS, nine at HL-O, 10 at HLOL and 13 at SSC —- a total of 34 years —- I was a head coach of a high school girls’ basketball team.
It was a position which captivated a tremendous amount of time —- planning practices, scouting opponents, preparing game plans and goals, compiling statistics, talking with the media, ordering post-season awards, and sometimes dealing with frustrated parents.
Just over six years ago, I wrote my first “Blast from the Past” for the Daily Globe and mentioned that I had been coaching high school sports for 29 seasons and had been blessed with mixed results, a variety of experiences and a treasure of memories.
Six years later that’s still true.
I will mention some of those results, experiences and memories in a future “blast” and also credit my many valued, trusted, competent and vital assistants who “carried me” through more than three decades of an ever-improving sport which has become increasingly more competitive and demanding over that time frame.
But, first I would like to express special thanks, appreciation and recognition to a remarkable Heron Lake couple, whom I had the privilege of coaching seven of their daughters, one son, five granddaughters and three grandsons.
Dean and Dolores Garoutte both graduated from HLHS in the early 1950’s (Dean in 1952 and Dolores Graff in ‘53). Married on October 6, 1954, the Garoutte’s raised a fine family of 10 children —- eight girls and two boys —- all of whom were great kids, top-notch students and had varying degrees of athletic ability.
While I started at HLHS too late to teach or coach Clint (Class of ‘73) or Connie (‘75), the twins —- Donna and Diane —- (‘76) were contributors to the Falcon volleyball squad in the fall of 1975. I was the head coach, Donna was the student manager and Diane was a senior player on a team which won the Southern Star Conference championship.
The following school year (‘76-77), Cathy Garoutte was an all-conference guard and a real leader on the HLHS girls’ basketball team which went undefeated through the regular season, won District 7 and Region 2 championships and defeated defending state champion Redwood Falls in the state tournament quarterfinals. The “thumbodies” were defeated (42-40) by Mayer Lutheran in the semifinals, but the Falcons brought home the third-place trophy after a 53-30 victory over Marshall University High and finished with a 22-1 record.
Deb was a senior on HL-O’s first team in ‘78-79 and played sparingly late in the season as an amazingly talented assortment of sophomores and a phenomenal freshman became the nucleus of a team which would later win 48 consecutive games, including the 1981 state championship with an undefeated 26-0 record.
Dean Jr. (Deano) was a member of that Class of ‘81 and I had coached him in track when he was younger. His determination and ability to push himself was unmatched. Deano was a hard-nosed running back on a very good Scarlet Knight football team and was a starting guard for HL-O’s 1981 conference championship basketball squad.
While Cindy (‘82) and Corey (‘84) were not as talented as Cathy or Deano, they displayed exceptional attitudes and were great teammates. Cindy led the Scarlet Knights out of the locker room prior to each game of the ‘81-82 season when HL-O was the state’s top-ranked team throughout the campaign.
Denise (‘88) was a junior on the last Scarlet Knight team and a senior on the first Silver Bullet squad, playing as a starting guard both seasons.
It was Denise, in fact, who encouraged me to continue coaching when HL-O and Lakefield paired after the 1987 season. I had serious thoughts of ending my coaching career then, but Denise’s attitude was instrumental in my decision to seek the coaching position at HLOL.
That first season with the Silver Bullets was one of my most enjoyable years. We had many highlight games, including a 48-44 victory at Fairmont just before Christmas which advanced us to the semifinals of the Jackson Holiday Tournament. Our small team really played a great all-around game that night and I was beaming with joy about our effort and the outcome.
So what about Dean and Dolores?
I know they were pleased, too. For the Garoutte’s always seemed to have things in the right perspective.
They came to the games for the enjoyment of the whole atmosphere. They applauded all of the players’ efforts and they had realistic expectations of their own kids’ abilities and contribution level.
I never got “cussed out” by Dean or Dolores.
The Garoutte’s really were fans of the local teams, for they continued to come to events even after all their kids had graduated.
But they didn’t have to wait too long for some grandchildren to become part of the area sports scene, which I am sure was fun for them.
Dominick, Derrick and Danielle Damm (Donna’s trio) were great cross country runners for the Silver Bullets in the ‘90s, each of them competing at the state meet. Dominick, who now coaches cross country at Murray County Central, was a lead runner on HLOL’s back-to-back state runner-up teams in ‘92 and ‘93. Derrick, as a freshman in ‘92, provided me with one of my most thrilling coaching memories ever when he entered the chute as our fifth runner at the section meet in Montevideo, clinching our team championship and trip to the state meet.
Jason DeWall (track), Jamie DeWall (cross country, basketball) are Connie’s kids and were contributing members of my team’s in the late ‘90s. Jamie became a very good defensive basketball player and excelled as a sprinter for Wayne Heisinger’s girls’ track dynasty (four consecutive state True Team championships) at the turn of the century.
More recently, the Henkels’ sisters, Linnea and Luanna (Cathy’s daughters), and Betsy Voehl (Diane’s) have been a big part of my teams. With explosive power and quickness, Linnea was an exceptional all-around athlete (volleyball, basketball, track) before graduating from SSC in 2007, helping the Quasars win some very exciting matches and games.
Linnea sank a game-opening 3-pointer after our team had successfully ran the “weave” on our first possession of a home game — against eventual (and defending) state champion Fulda in January of 2007 — causing our jam-packed crowd to erupt. Later, she scored on a key 3-point play after our team executed a time-control possession, running the “flex” until we sprung Linnea for a layup.
We ended up winning that game and finished a perfect 17-0 in the conference that winter.
Two seasons ago, first cousins Luanna and Betsy were my starting guards on a team which had several highlight games and frequently performed above expectations.
I’ll bet Dean and Dolores enjoyed watching their granddaughters play together.
I am glad that great fans like the Garoutte’s were able to get so many chances to see their kids and grandkids get genuine opportunities to be part of a high school team and compete to the best of their ability level.
And like in fishing when you might “catch some big ones and some little ones,” you might “win some and lose some,” but it’s still fun watching the efforts and performances.
Thanks, so much, Dean and Dolores for your genuine, unwavering support and encouragement during my many years of coaching high school athletics, especially the 35 years of girls’ basketball —- your daughter Deb was on my first “B” squad and your granddaughter Luanna was on my last varsity team.
Dean and Dolores, both of you were consistent and loyal from start to finish and I appreciated it!
Change is difficult, but sometimes necessary
While I had so many positive experiences and lasting memories from my 35 years as a girls’ basketball coach, it became apparent that the time was right to move on.
Increased demands for head coaches and the expectations of summer basketball have become more than I could handle.
Maybe like Brett Favre, I “stayed on” one year too long. We were 12-14 in ’08-09, but I had lots of fun and believed that our team improved and had some real highlight games.
Last season, however, I was unable to really “get into it” and I let my team down, as we did not seem to improve or be capable of “putting it together” or sustaining a consistent level of play.
It seemed obvious that the girls needed a change.
So, I made the choice — with more regrets than I would realize — to “step down” and become the boys’ assistant. My responsibility and work load would be lessened and, perhaps, a new challenge would be good for me.
Meanwhile Keith Place — known as KP — and Erica Pasche have taken the reigns of the girls’ program and are striving to generate enthusiasm with well-organized practices and game plans.
KP, who was one of my assistants — both paid and as a volunteer — for five of the past six years, is more of a “program builder” and Erica, who has done a tremendous job of rebuilding the SSC band, has lots of energy and great rapport with the players.
Look for the junior-loaded SSC girls to improve as this season progresses and next winter this very tall squad may become a real force to be reckoned with in the always challenging Red Rock Conference.