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Rodd's Ramblings: The joys of coaching

Whew! Can we come up for air yet?

Kerry RoddThat was what most of us at WKLK-AM, WKLK-FM and WMOZ-FM thought as the high school baseball state tournament wrapped up the 2017-18 high school sports season. After a wild spring in which weather played a part in pushing playoff games back, the final games have been played and the focus now is on summer sports and recharging the batteries of the athletes who will return for another high school season next fall.

As someone who coaches high school athletes, follows high school sports for a job on the radio and in the newspaper and who has coached at the collegiate level, I am always amazed at how young people today can accomplish so many things in such a small amount of time. Anyone who says our younger generation is not ready to take the reins when they become adults is not associated with student-athletes in high school today. In my opinion, we have a fantastic group of young people coming through our local high schools who will someday become great leaders of our communities.

The other day I got into a fun conversation with a couple of high school age kids who said they have it so much tougher than we did back in the old days!

Back in the old days? You want to talk about things that were tough? I graduated in 1976 and the only computer we had was a Texas Instruments calculator that cost nearly 300 bucks. (That is discounting the old big Green Machine that sounded like an old teletype located in the Social Resource Center at Cloquet High School.)

Of course, video games were in their infancy with "Pong" and "Combat" becoming the first generation of those types of games. Heck, "Pac-Man" wasn't released as a video game until 1980 and "Donkey Kong" became all the rage in 1981. You want to talk about tough times!

As our conversation moved along, the group of two grew to three and then four and finally five kids who sat and listened as I explained the nuances of living in the dark ages. They asked questions like:

"What is a drive-in theater?"

"You really brought a shotgun to school to go bird hunting after school and didn't get in trouble?"

"You mean the old barn had chicken wire instead of plexiglass to keep the pucks from hitting people in the noggin?"

"Wait, you mean they used to play high school hockey outside at the Washington school rink?"

"Washington School had a rink?"

"How many grade schools were there in Cloquet?"

"There was no Walmart?"

"You mean you had little grocery stores right in your own neighborhood?"

I sat and tried to imagine how much had changed from then to now and it was then that I realized I was the lucky one because I was the one with the memories who was being asked questions by kids who were inquisitive about what their town used to be like before they were born.

Did it make me feel old? Yes, but it also made me smile to think they cared enough to ask.

When I started talking about what downtown Cloquet used to be like when there was the Tulip Shop, Skogmos, Len's Melody Music, the Standard Gas Station, Shell Gas Station, Oswald Motors, Bridgeman's and other stores too numerous to mention, it seemed like their jaws dropped and they were actually in awe of what used to be right here in Cloquet.

This whole bridging of the generations was going along quite nicely, at least most of the time, until one young man asked what it was like to live before indoor plumbing and electricity. His idea of poking fun at me. But, if you think about it, to kids today, people of my generation are old. They weren't being mean, they were just being honest.

I know when I was that age I thought the same thing of my parents and grandparents. It isn't until you start to age and live life a little that you realize perhaps things aren't as they seem. As an example, I think back to my eighth-grade basketball coach Gary Welton, who coached us in 1971. When he talked about playing in the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament and finishing second in 1963, it seemed like that was eons before I was around, yet I was 5 years old when it happened and I had no recollection of it.

Just 8 years later, Mr. Welton was coaching us and teaching us fundamentals we would use all the way through our high school years.

I guess the point I am trying to make is time is relative. The longer you are around the more you appreciate the time you get to spend with people. In my case I get to be around kids who help keep me young at least from a mental perspective. As a softball coach in high school and college, I have had the good fortune to coach great kids over the years.

This past year, when our young Cloquet High School softball team surprised everyone and made it to the section championships, I realized more than ever that this group of kids was special and I am guessing most coaches will say that at the end of almost every season.

However, they weren't just special because of how they played. No, hey were special because of their genuine care for each other and their support of each other. I can honestly say there was not a day that went by where the kids didn't do something that made me laugh, chuckle, smile or ask are these kids crazy.

What a joy to be able to coach good kids who care and kids who want to make a difference in life. To all of our athletes in the area, all I can say is "thank you" for what you do and please keep making a difference!

Kerry Rodd is a freelance sports writer for the Pine Journal and general manager of Northwoods Radio Group.