Struck Strikes Out: No turning back the time

Friday, March 24, 2006

I realize stuff happens and life goes on, but I was struck with a double whammy recently when I learned that two solid gold, veteran coaches from the same school were hanging up the whistles.

Well-decorated Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn coaches Dave Clayberg (football) and Steve Utesch (wrestling) have tendered their resignations.

Clayberg, whom I've worked with for about 30 years when he also coached football and track at Sutherland, and then at Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn back in the day, is officially retiring. He coached the Eagles football team for eight years, beginning in 1996, and took a two-year hiatus in 2003, 2004, before returning to the MMC helm this past season.

Dave rang up some impressive numbers during his prep coaching years, but, knowing this most modest of men would be ticked off at me if I went into "rehashing" his overall record, I'm just going to deal with the recent past.

Dave went 2-7 his first year at MMC. Then, with the kids buying into his program and ways of doing things, went 4-5 the next season, 7-2 the next, 7-2 the next, and 8-2 in 2000, qualifying for the state playoffs.

Dave, who played football at Iowa State University, quit classroom teaching a few years ago, and just coached football for the Eagles.

Utesch guided the MMC wrestling program the past 15 years and led the Eagles to an incredible 211-72-3 dual meet record. In that career his grapplers claimed a whopping 43 tournament championships and six War Eagle Conference titles.

A former national champion himself when he wrestled for Westmar College, Steve also guided 18 of his wrestlers to the state tournament, won three Sectional Tournament titles, and went to the state team duals twice, earning third place both times.

Folks, these two guys have been tried, tested and aced them all. They possess outstanding character, see the big picture, have the proper perception of their sport and what is required of their athletes, and, best of all, have imparted their values onto their players to be used throughout their lives.

Dave and Steve are passionate about their sports, dedicated to their school and players, and have always insisted on doing things the right way, their many outstanding accomplishments coming from basically one thing - hard work.

They built their dynamic teams on a strict reliance on fundamentals, conditioning, and the weight room, encouraging and embracing the type of players willing to put in that sacrifice to be the best they can be.

Both have won games (matches) they had no business of winning because of their expertise at getting the most out of their athletes.

Sadly, they join a too-long list of classy, capable, veteran prep coaches who, like Yogi Berra said, reached that fork in the road and took it.

And this is not to slight Bill Mathers at River Valley, the longtime football coach for the Wolverines, who also coached softball and golf. I've known Bill since I began this business 30 years ago.

Bill, another of those successful veteran coaches who has been through all the wars, and "just gets it" when dealing with today's kids, annually fielded fundamentally sound, over-achieving teams that bought into his system and learned to play their sports correctly and by the rules.

When he told me he was retiring from coaching last year, I asked him for some career numbers. "Oh, I've won a few and lost a few," he laughed, too modest to mention his football playoff seasons, or his softball or golf successes.

I hope beyond hope that the new "guys" coming in to replace this incomparable trio, have what it takes to pick up the pieces and mold high quality programs around high quality kids like Dave, Steve and Bill have done in their outstanding careers.

A big plus is that Bill continues to "be around" prep sports by serving as athletic director and teacher at River Valley, and Steve is going to continue teaching at MMC.

Kids, parents, young coaches, don't hesitate to tap these resources if you have questions about participation in sports. They have the answers or they know where to find them.

And be sure to thank them for their many years of unselfish service and devotion to your kids, your teams, your school, and your community.

For sure, their pay ain't cuttin' it, but maybe your kind words will.

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