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The Drill: Coach Gary Hildebrandt is as successful as he is colorful

It was impossible not to notice Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda track and field coach Gary Hildebrandt from across the Fulda High School parking lot. He wore a loud orange, yellow and blue cotton shirt emblazoned with palm trees, flying birds and white puffy clouds.

FULDA -- It was impossible not to notice Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda track and field coach Gary Hildebrandt from across the Fulda High School parking lot. He wore a loud orange, yellow and blue cotton shirt emblazoned with palm trees, flying birds and white puffy clouds. The famously colorful veteran coach certainly looked the part to The Globe “Drill” crew coming that day to talk about his exceptional coaching career.

Hildebrandt said it was actually accidental that he wore such a shirt that day. It just happened to be lying there, and he put it on.

One thing’s for sure, however. There isn’t a more friendly, engaging, fun … and, yes, talkative … supporter of high school athletics anywhere around. He’s a reporter’s dream. You don’t really have to ask him questions, you just say hello and then open your notebook.

In 2020, Hildebrandt was inducted into the Minnesota Cross County Coaches Hall of Fame. His career encompasses several schools and several sports from Jackson to Mountain Lake to Heron Lake-Okabena to to HL-O/F to MLBA to JCC and then some, and not necessarily in that order. He’s coached football, cross country, track, and even some volleyball, wrestling and soccer.

These days, the HL-O teacher of fifth- and sixth-grade math and social studies, who grew up in Mountain Lake, coaches cross country at HL-O and track and field at HL-O/F. If you’re an athlete and you can’t learn something from Gary Hildebrandt, you’re not listening. His long record of team and individual success speaks for itself -- when it can get a word in edgewise.

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Gary told The Globe that, as coach, he tries to relate to kids at all levels. As a former athlete, himself, he’s lived through good times and not-so-good times, and he feels he can use his own history as a way to bring about mutual understanding.

He described his philosophy. “Relating to kids is a big thing,” he said, “because I want them to trust me. They aren’t going to trust me unless I can relate to them. And if it’s just going to be telling them what to do, this and that, it’s just going to be words.”

To see video footage of the Globe’s interview with Gary Hildebrandt, go online at www.dglobe.com and search under sports. Here’s a sample of the interview:

QUESTION: Tell us the most unusual thing about you that most people don’t know.

ANSWER: “I was a football player, and I was a sprinter in track and field, and I ended up being a hurdler in college. And I’ve made my bread and butter coaching distance runners. Strange. You know, at first I had to gain some credibility, but it’s worked.”

QUESTION: Where does your energy come from?

ANSWER: “People say that I’m a people person. I don’t want to say I wake up in the morning and say, ‘I better make sure I’m a people person today.’ I think it was just developed from the time I was young. My mom and dad kind of let us run all over town, all over the place -- got involved in anything we wanted to. I have three older brothers who shut me up when I needed to be.”

QUESTION: Outside of sports, what are your interests?

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ANSWER: “My interests outside of sports are probably -- sports. I mean, my hobbies are sports. I’m going to be retiring at the end of the school year from teaching. I’m not sure about coaching, yet. I guess right now one of the real hobbies is grandkids. I’ve got six grandkids. I’m going to enjoy flying out to California and going to see the grandkids whenever I want, if I can afford it -- going up to the Cities if my daughter can’t find day care. And then I want to keep on the same schedule as my wife, who’s a teacher. She’s going to teach a little bit longer, so I’ll sub. I’m kind of in the same area, so I can keep the same schedule as her.”

051921 N DG HL O F track and field coach Gary Hildebrandt S1.jpg
HL-O/F track and field coach Gary Hildebrandt 05 19 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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