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After 62 Years, Edina's Art Downey Is Ready For Retirement
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/18/2018 5:17:18 PM

One of the great gentlemen of high school activities, Edina boys swim coach Art Downey, has announced that he has retired after coaching there for 62 years. Yes, that is correct: 62 years. Art is the only head coach in Edina boys swimming history and his teams won 10 state titles. I wrote a profile of Art during the 2015-16 season, and it is re-posted here. Congratulations to Mr. Downey!

In the 1940s, a little squirt of a kid growing up in St. Paul developed a reputation as a pretty good swimmer. The boy did most of his swimming in lakes, and he could really move in the water. He wasn’t the most talented kid in St. Paul, but he wasn’t lacking in athletic skills. The kid’s life centered around sports and he played whatever sport was in season.

When he got to high school at St. Paul Central, some of his buddies suggested he go out for the swim team. And so he did.

That’s where the story begins. Where will it end? That’s a question for the ages, because that little kid who could really move in the water in the 1940s is still really moving as 2015 turns the corner into 2016. His name is Art Downey and he is in his 60th season as the only boys head swimming and diving coach Edina High School has ever had.

It’s quite a story.

“Everybody my age has been doing something for 60 years,” Downey said. “I’ve just happened to do it all in one spot.”

That’s true. In that one spot, his teams have won conference and state championships, and he has coached dozens of individual and relay state champions as well as more than 30 All-America swimmers. But 60 years? How is that even possible?

Downey doesn’t talk about his age, but Edina assistant coach Scott Johnson said it’s not much of mathematical challenge to figure it out. The Edina job was Art’s first position after college and two years in the Army, so …

“He’s been here since 1956, he’s been coaching for 60 years, so you can kind of estimate his age,” said Johnson, who is only the third assistant Downey has had in those six decades.

“Art’s a classic,” Johnson said. “Everybody in the swimming world knows Art. He’s in just about every Hall of Fame imaginable, he’s won just about every award imaginable in our state and at the national level.”

Downey was inducted into the Minnesota Swimming Hall of Fame in 1991, the Edina High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2000, the University of Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.

For some perspective on his longevity, consider some other coaching giants in Minnesota high school sports: Bob McDonald coached boys basketball in Chisholm for 59 years before retiring in 2014. Ron Stolski continues to coach football in Brainerd; next season will be his 55th. Also in Brainerd, Lowell Scearcy has coached baseball for 46 years.

Downey earned his first varsity letter as a swimmer at the University of Minnesota in 1953. While in college he pondered what to do with his life. His love of sports made the decision to go into teaching and coaching pretty simple.

After graduating from college, Downey spent two years in the military as the Korean War was winding down. He never left U.S. soil and even spent one summer playing baseball in the Army. He was hired at Edina in the 1956-57 school year to teach physical education and start a boys swimming team.

He retired from teaching in 1990 – that was a quarter of a century ago – and never gave a thought to retiring from coaching. He’s not in it for success, unless you count the success of helping young men grow.

Ask Downey about his career highlights, and it’s pretty clear that he simply doesn’t think along those lines.

“That would be tough,” he said. “My favorite team is always the one I’m coaching. That’s always true. The best part of my job is being with those kids every day. It’s the highlight of my day to spend a couple hours with them.

“I like to think accomplishments were never why I was in it. It was an opportunity to be a positive influence. That’s why I do it. People don’t usually think about it, but when two teams have a contest, three things can happen: one of the two teams can win or there’s a tie. I try to contribute to kids’ lives in either case.”

Before the Hornets’ season began with a Lake Conference meet at Edina last week, Downey took the microphone to address the crowd and the swimmers. He paid tribute to Elmer Luke, who began coaching the swim team at Hopkins the same year Downey began his career at Edina. Luke had died a few days earlier; Downey recounted some of Elmer’s accomplishments (“He was a true pioneer and a very good friend to many of us”) and asked the crowd to take part in a moment of silence.

The swim meet then began with the public-address announcer saying: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Art Downey Aquatic Center.”

Yes, the Edina pool is named after the coach. The facility was christened when it opened in 2006.

“That’s a terrific honor, that’s for sure,” Downey said. “I feel humbled by it.”

Edina activities director Troy Stein knows about long-serving coaches. Stein played high school basketball at Rocori under Bob Brink, who was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame this year. Brink coached for 50 years, the last 42 at Rocori before retiring in 2012.

“One thing that’s impressed me is Art is truly a guy who is constantly wanting to learn more about the sport, learn more about coaching, learn more about kids, learn more about what’s the best way to do things,” Stein said. “He is open to new technologies and it’s so impressive to get to know him and his passion to learn and grow.

“When we have our head coaches meetings, it’s fun to tap Art whenever we can to listen to his perspective on things that have happened in the past or things he’s seen. When Art speaks, coaches listen, because he has great, valuable insight to share.”

Downey remains busy with coaching, participating in coaching clinics and conventions, and assisting the swimming world however he can.

His first wife, Joanne, died 11 years ago. He remarried seven years ago, and he and his wife Carol have a flock of grandchildren. “They’re both wonderful ladies,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed in many, many ways.”

Downey’s four children all live in the metro area, and the grandkids enjoy hanging out at “Grandpa’s pool.”

Little has changed for Downey over these 60 years. When he was hired in 1956 he wore black eyeglasses and he still wears them today. He wears a polo shirt, shorts, white socks and white shoes at the pool, carrying a stopwatch and clipboard.

Downey indeed seems timeless. But he can tell that time marches on because his former swimmers and students are aging even if he isn’t. Members of his early teams are in their 70s now, and many of them went on to care for their coach as doctors, eye doctors, pharmacists, etc.

And what do you know? Some of them have retired.

“I’m starting to lose these people because of retirement,” Art said with a chuckle. “Doctors, eye doctors, you name it, they’re all because I either coached them or had them in class. It’s kind of a bummer when they retire. I think, ‘You can’t do this to me. What’s wrong with you?’ ”

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



It’s A New Day For Baseball In Spring Grove
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:56:10 AM

SPRING GROVE – Tuesday provided a delightful setting for baseball here in this southeastern Minnesota village. The unbeaten Rockets from Randolph High School took the long bus ride to meet the once-beaten Spring Grove Lions in a Southeast Conference doubleheader. To say Randolph is in the “southeast” is a bit of a stretch; the town is 40 miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis and 118 miles northwest of Spring Grove.

Because of the toll taken on spring sports by our extended winter, MSHSL baseball and softball teams have the option of playing two five-inning games in a doubleheader. That was the setup here Tuesday, and the two games were quite snappy. The opener lasted 53 minutes and the second game took 73 minutes. These were two talented teams, committing only three total errors and coaches making only three visits to the mound in the 10 innings of play.

The event was small town to the core. When Spring Grove’s Alex Folz hit a sharp single on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, a car horn honked in appreciation. The sun was bright, the grass was green and pork chops and pork burgers were sizzling on a grill manned by baseball parents Phil Griffin and Butch Sanness.

“It’s been a perfect year after the rough weather,” said Randolph coach Chris Stanton. “The weather’s been nice since then.”

Randolph came out on top of both games by scores of 4-1 and 8-4. That was a bit of a downer for the hometown fans who cheered from metal bleachers, lawn chairs and front seats of automobiles. One of the Lions’ biggest longtime fans wasn’t in attendance, at least not literally. But Pauleen Bratland was almost surely paying attention, even though she passed away in January after 85 years of pure Spring Grove spirit.

Her hometown was everything to Pauleen. She graduated from the high school (current 9-12 enrollment: 101) in 1950, she and husband Vernon operated the local A&W in the 1960s and 1970s, and Pauleen and another longtime Lions backer, Karen Langlie, were named Spring Grove Fans of the Year by the athletic booster club. Pauleen was 79 years old at the time of that high honor.

Pauleen’s wonderful obituary included this passage: “Pauleen was also so happy when high school baseball finally came back to Spring Grove and couldn’t figure out why it ever left.”

From 2010 until 2015 Spring Grove was in a cooperative baseball arrangement with nearby Caledonia. There is no shortage of hometown pride in places like Spring Grove, however. Baseball coach Chris Strinmoen (Spring Grove's Male Athlete of the Year as a senior in 1996) worked hard at getting a summer youth baseball program on a strong footing, and folks began improving the ballfield. A direct appeal to baseball alumni quickly brought in more than $7,000. A grant from the Twins Community Fund followed, as did lots of fundraising events, donated labor, discounted materials and more cash, including sizable support from the City of Spring Grove. The infield dirt was removed and replaced, roomy new dugouts were built, and a 50-year-old concession stand was replaced by a modern new building that includes handicap-accessible bathrooms, a concession stand and a second-level viewing platform.

A project that would have carried a retail price tag of more than $300,000 was done at a cost of little more than $100,000. Improvements will continue, thanks to continuing support from local contractors and local labor.

Mention the ballpark to anybody in town and you’ll be met with an immediate smile.

“It’s brought people out, it’s brought kids out to participate because they’re not embarrassed playing here,” said baseball coach Chris Strinmoen, a 1996 Spring Grove graduate. “What we had before was pretty rough. The community’s really excited about what we’ve got and the players obviously enjoy it, too.”

Followers of prep sports in our state remember the Spring Grove football team from last fall. The Lions won the school’s first-ever state championship, going wire to wire, finishing 14-0 and bringing home the nine-man football title from U.S. Bank Stadium. That kind of success has rubbed off on everybody, including the boys of spring.

“It gives your guys, your school, confidence that you can compete at the best level,” Strinmoen said. “Going into the baseball season, we’re a young program, and they just have a bit more of a swagger this year.”

Now in their third season as a stand-alone baseball program, the Lions have made great strides. They finished 7-11 in the first year and 8-10 last season. The number of errors has been cut in half since year one and the team batting average has risen by 40 points.

“We’re seeing the fruits now of these young guys kind of struggling through it a little bit,” the coach said. “Now they’re a little more comfortable.”

They weren’t quite comfortable enough to beat Randolph. The Rockets have a deep baseball tradition, going back to long before a future member of the Minnesota Twins named Caleb Thielbar was a senior in 2005. The Rockets of 2018 can swing the bat and crush the ball, as evidenced by a five-hit, six-run third inning in Tuesday’s second game.

The Lions never quit, though, and that was a lesson that was partially learned through years of football disappointment. Grand Meadow dominated nine-man football for years, winning every state title from 2012 to 2016 and usually ending Spring Grove’s season in the Section 1 playoffs. The tide turned last fall.

“We knew we were one of the best teams in the state but no one knew about us because of Grand Meadow every year. It was nice to put our name out there,” said senior football/basketball/baseball player Adin Solum, among 15 of the 17 baseball players who were on the football and/or basketball teams.

Alex Folz, who quarterbacked the football team, said, “I think in football we had a lot of ‘never quit’ and ‘always keep going.’ I think that transfers to baseball. If we get down a little bit we know we can always come back. We know we have it in us.”

As the baseball regular season winds down and the postseason looms, the Lions are ready to make a run. There is a sense of “do it now” for the three seniors on the roster; Solum, Austin Patterson and Sam Sanness. And there is a sense of “do it here” at their top-tier home field.

“With the new ballpark, it shows what a small community like ours can do and how much confidence they have in us,” Folz said. “If they didn’t have confidence in us they wouldn’t have given us this nice ballpark. And all the people who helped put it together, it was just amazing.”

Yes, folks in Spring Grove are happy and proud of what has been accomplished. Almost everyone pitched in however they could, including super fan Pauleen Bratland.

How happy was she that baseball had returned to the town she loved so much? After Pauleen’s death, a generous donation from her estate was made to the ballpark fund.

--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Class 1A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:50:59 AM

CLASS 1A
Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(2) NCE/UH Titans* (S8)-(57)
2.(1) New York Mills (S6)-(56)
3.(2) Sleepy Eye Saint Mary's (S2)-(52)
4.(4) Kimball Area (S4)-(29)
4.(5) New Ulm Cathedral (S2)-(29)
6.(6) Pine River-Backus (S5)-(27)
7.(9) Edgerton/SW MN Christian* (S3)-(26)
7.(7) Badger/GB-MR* (S8)-(26)
9.(13) Carlton (S7)-(17)
10.(10) Randolph (S4)-(16)
Others receiving votes: Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (S3)-(15), Wabasha-Kellogg (S1)-(11),West Central Area (S6)-(9), Hayfield (S1)-(7), Cherry (S7)-(6), Silver Bay (Wm. Kelley) (S7)-(4), Brandon-Evansville (S6)-(3)



Class 2A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:50:40 AM

CLASS 2A
Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Maple Lake (S5)-(60)
2.(3) Pipestone Area (S3)-(49)
3.(4) Rochester Lourdes (S1)-(45)
4.(2) Zumbrota-Mazeppa (S1)-(41)
5.(6) Chatfield (S1)-(38)
6.(9) Thief River Falls (S8)-(32)
7.(5) Park Rapids Area (S8)-(25)
8.(7) Esko (S7)-(24)
9.(7) St. Peter (S2)-(18)
10.(NR) Cotter/Hope Lutheran* (S1)-(17)
Others receiving votes: Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta* (S3)-(11), Hawley (S8)-(7),Jordan (S2)-(6), Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (S3)-(5), Annandale (S6)-(4), Rockford (S5)-(4), St. Agnes (S4)-(3), Norwood-Young America (S5)-(1)



Class 3A Softball Rankings
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 5/17/2018 11:49:50 AM

CLASS 3A
Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Faribault (S2)-(58)
2.(2) North Branch (S7)-(56)
3.(3) Mankato West (S2)-(43)
4.(5) Winona (S1)-(40)
4.(6) Hill-Murray (S6)-(40)
6.(4) Waconia (S2)-(33)
7.(7) Mankato East (S2)-(27)
7.(8) Rocori (S5)-(27)
9.(9) Chisago Lakes (S7)-(21)
10.(10) Delano (S6)-(20)
Others receiving votes: Northfield (S1)-(8), New Ulm (S2)-(6),Hermantown (S7)-(3), Totino-Grace (S4)-(2), Academy of Holy Angels (S3)-(2), Bemidji (S8)-(2), Detroit Lakes (S8)-(1), Willmar (S5)-(1)



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