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Wolter's Column: 'Trap' never cared to get noticed, he just got things done

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Calm, steady (but not without a sense of humor) Worthington High School athletic director Mike Traphagen is retiring.

I first met Mike Traphagen when we played baseball together at Worthington Community College. He was our starting shortstop. I was a skinny runt trying to catch the attention of coach Ty Wacker.

I could tell even then that "Trap" was bound to make something of himself. He wasn't flashy. Rather, he was solid. A responsible kid. Somebody you could count on in a pinch.

Now, nearly 40 years later, our Bluejays shortstop is on the verge of retirement. Since 1985, the tall, angular, responsible Mike Traphagen has dived headlong into the educational life at the Worthington public school district. He taught elementary physical education. He coached the track and field program for 24 years until the last four, when he served as athletic director. At various stages, he served as varsity volleyball coach, assistant varsity basketball coach, and was head cross country coach for eight years.

At the end of the school year, Traphagen will wind things down. But he won't be inactive.

"I still like most parts of my job," he said this week. "I'm ready to not work so many hours. I think I'll still stay connected with kids one way or another."

Traphagen, a Worthington High School and St. Cloud State grad who taught and coached at the Heron Lake-Okabena school district for six years before moving on to WHS, says he plans to help the other coaches where he can. And he'll be ready to assist on the scoreboard, in the scorebook, or announcing.

"I know there's a need for those, because I'm the one who's had to find those things," he smiles.

Mike and his wife, Patty, have three boys, Kellen, Wade and Zach. All three of them are now teachers, and all three are involved in coaching.

Education, in fact, goes a long way back in Trap's family. His father, Bruce, was a counselor at WCC and later served as dean of students (he was, in fact, the person I spoke to before deciding to attend WCC myself). Trap's mother, Esther, was a teacher in the Worthington school district.

Mike recalls his formative years in Renville, where his father once taught and coached. Young Mike followed his dad around at practices, learned to love sports, and the rest (as they say) is history.

After Trap officially steps down as a full-time educator at the end of this school year, he says that besides helping out in sporting events he'll be open to substitute teaching. He will also continue working with longtime coaching peers Don Kuiper and Dennis Hale in the summers, painting houses. He's been doing that for about 25 years now.

His old buddy Hale says Traphagen is a crucial member of the painting team. "He's the guy who Kuiper and I always send up high," testifies Dennis.

Hale, well-known for his many successful years as the WHS football coach, came to appreciate Traphagen when they taught PE together at the middle school. Hale says he and Trap used to tell the impressionable middle schoolers that if they cheated on their pushups they would be caught. There were cameras hidden under the roof of the gymnasium, they explained, and the tapes were checked regularly.

Often, Hale said, they could see the kids looking at the ceiling trying to spot those hidden cameras.

Hale has nothing but good things to say about Traphagen, describing him as a "quality person" who has "done a tremendous job working with young people."

He adds, "(Mike) has always had the right demeanor to deal with parents and kids. In truth, I can't find anything bad to say about him."

Anyone who has known Mike Traphagen will probably shake their head in agreement at the response Mike made when I asked him to assess his own career. He smiles when he says it, as if just slightly embarrassed.

"I like to do my job and do it to the best of my ability, and if nobody notices me, that's great," he told me while sitting in his office this week. Then he said, "Whatever I was doing I was always going to try my best. I was never afraid of hard work. I think it's very rewarding to work hard ..."

And he certainly enjoyed working with the students. "Seeing how they grow and seeing them turn into very nice young men and women ... Some of them aren't that young any more."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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