John's Journal: Remembering Wabasso Legend Gary Hindt
Hall Of Fame Coach Passed Away On Thanksgiving
Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2023 - 5:50 PM
One of the great joys of my job is spending time with incredible people. There are too many to count, but Gary Hindt will always be very high on my list. I first got to know him when he was the wrestling coach at Wabasso High School, a job he held for 49 years before retiring in 2017. Every time I visited Wabasso after that, Gary and I had a grand, laugh-filled reunion. I was there for the Homecoming football game one year, and Gary gave me no choice but to ride with him in a golf cart as we tossed out candy during the Homecoming parade. It was a riot.
Gary was diagnosed with cancer a while back, and he passed away on Thanksgiving. It's a great loss to his family and friends, his wrestlers and assistant coaches and everyone who was lucky enough to know him.
I had the pleasure of attending a community reception for Gary after he retired as wrestling coach. It was held at the Wabasso Community Center in the summer of 2017 and drew a giant crowd. Here's a story I wrote from that reception, originally posted on July 9, 2017...
Honoring A Coaching Legend In Wabasso
WABASSO -- A gathering was held here Saturday night to celebrate the 49-year career of Wabasso High School wrestling coach Gary Hindt. He announced his retirement in April and the community – along with others from far and wide – got together at the Wabasso Community Center in what was called “Roast, Boast And a Toast to Gary Hindt.” It was a spectacularly fun time.
Gary started the Wabasso Rabbits wrestling program when he was hired as a young teacher right out of college in 1968. In recent years Wabasso and Red Rock Central formed a cooperative team known as the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats. Hindt’s record of 807-214-6 puts him second on Minnesota’s career victory list. He coached six individual state champions and was inducted into the state wrestling coaches Hall of Fame in 1994.
But what he really accomplished had very little to do with winning and losing. One of his well-known quotes is this: “Wins, losses, I don't care ... It's all about the kids and how they turn out in life.”
Throughout the evening, one thought came to my mind: Never underestimate the impact of a coach or a teacher. I think about my own high school coaches and teachers, and all the coaches and teachers that I have the fortune to spend time with in my job. Gary Hindt is the epitome of his profession; he offered encouragement to his athletes, he knew how to motivate them but he never made winning the most important factor.
He was a basketball player in his hometown of Fulda, but he switched to the school’s new wrestling team when he was in 11th grade. “I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he told me when I wrote a profile of him in 2013.
Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 47 years.
Erika, Heather and Jenni were the masterminds behind Saturday’s gathering. Erika contacted me in April to tell me what they were planning and offering an invitation. I don’t know how many people were on hand Saturday, but the Community Center is a big place and it was standing-room only. And here’s something amazing: Gary had no idea about the gathering until his family convinced him to go with them to the Community Center for some mysterious reason on Saturday. That was one great big secret to keep.
As people poured in, Gary greeted every one of them with a handshake, a hug, a smile … and in many cases all three.
A pre-arranged lineup of people went to a podium and microphone at the front of the room to talk about the coach. Some were former wrestlers, including Ron Rasmussen, a co-captain on Hindt’s first two teams in the 1960s, and Dan Zimmer, the Rabbits’ first state champion in 1976. Zimmer’s family moved from Wabasso to Litchfield before his senior year, so the Hindts took him into their home for the school year. He called it “the best year of my life.”
Johnny Frank, a state champ in 2000 who went on to become a teacher and a coach (currently in Faribault), said, “He made you feel special. I wanted to be Gary Hindt.” He smiled, looked with appreciation at his coach and said, “I wanted to be you.”
Hindt is the youngest of 14 kids. His brothers and sisters, their spouses, kids and others came from all over the country. Zimmer, who lives in Georgia, said there was no way he was going to miss it.
Coaches whose teams tangled with the Rabbits were asked to stand and well more than a dozen did. Female student managers, wives and sisters of wrestlers were asked to stand and half the people in the room stood. Men and boys who wrestled for Hindt were asked to stand and the place went nuts with cheers and applause for them and their hero/coach.
Late in the evening, all those wrestlers posed for a photograph with their coach. The Community Center wasn’t big enough to get them all in one photo, so they went outside.
“You coached for 49 years,” Zimmer said to Hindt. “That’s one heck of a big team.”
That’s one big, proud, very lucky team.
--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]