As spring sports got under way at all the schools in our circulation area the last several weeks, I became excited that winter had finally gone away for at least seven months, and that nice outdoor weather was upon us. The thought of playing golf and getting outside to our summer activities put a warm feeling into my heart.
That is when it happened. Mike Linnell, my boss here in the sports department at The Minot Daily News, informed me that I was assigned to the opening feature on the local high school tennis teams. As a part-time sports writer assigned to the hockey beat in the winter, I knew that hockey would finally be over and I would have to venture into reporting areas where no man has gone before (well, at least this not this man.)
It is not that I am not excited to cover tennis. I had the privilege of playing tennis in my younger days for both Gary Leslie at Minot State University for four years, and for Jerry Lyon at Minot High School during my senior year way back in 1976. Yes, I said 1976. And when I end up doing the interview next week, I know the emotions will be running high.
The respect that I have for Leslie and Lyon are
second to none. I had lost my father, Robert McFall, to heart disease when I was in eighth grade at Erik Ramstad Junior High School. At the age of 13, I was forced to face my developmental years without a father. I didn’t have to wait long to find a couple of gentleman that would help me through those years and help me learn the trials and tribulations of growing up and coping with the real world.
The leadership that I received from this duo and their emphasis on being dedicated to what you are doing while respecting others is something that I will probably never be able to repay them. But I have made sure that I have passed those values on to the best of my ability to my own son Brandon. Sometimes I wonder why I have lived in this town for the last 30 years without making sure that I stay in touch with them on a regular basis, but thanks to Linnell for ringing a little reminder bell in my brain. I know now that I will make changes to that situation and stay in better contact with them from this day on.
I cannot imagine a Minot High School tennis season without Jerry Lyon at the helm. He has been the only tennis coach in the modern Minot sports era, coaching the Minot tennis teams since the school put tennis back on its sports docket in 1976. Minot High did have a tennis team on and off before then, the last one competing in 1964 as I had once been told by a source that I can no longer recall.
I am excited to get to a practice and talk to Mr. Lyon, and as I prepare to report on his 2008 girls tennis season. I can only think of and remember all of the athletes over the years that have played for him. I have never been too good at math, or anything else for that matter, but I do know that 31 plus years of coaching adds up to about 62 individual tennis seasons, which probably involves up to 1,000 athletes that have played for him, give or take a few.
In fact, the Daily News sports department has two of those former athletes under its roof, myself and the illustrious Chris Bieri, who have played tennis under Lyon’s leadership. No offense Jerry, but all 1,000 players can’t stay in shape their whole life!
As a long time Minot sports fan, it was hard to take the news that icons like Lyon, Ken Disher, Bruce Anderson and Gene Manson were all announcing their retirements at the same time. As a young college tennis player and high school tennis coach years ago, I would stop up at Lyon’s house to have him help me out with suggestions on what I should do with certain situations that were coming up at my Bishop Ryan High School practices. And, when I went to his place, his roommate Ken Disher would often open the door when we came knocking. They were both young upstart coaches and teachers that were starting out with their careers and trying to get established.
And get established they did. Disher’s teams nabbed 20 state titles in 29 seasons as the head coach of the Minot High swim team, and Lyon’s tennis squad dual record over the years will probably never be matched.
Gene Manson took over for Terry Hjelmstad as the head basketball coach at about the same time, and his outstanding career record speaks for itself. And Bruce Anderson is the only head coach of the girls basketball program at Minot High that this reporter can remember.
So as the coming of spring brings out the 2008 version of Minot’s spring sports, we must remember as we look forward that no matter what happens from now on, the end of an era is upon us. Sports in Minot will never be the same again.
(Larry McFall is a sports writer for The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)