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The way forward

It's never easy to part ways with a longtime friend. The recent decision by Cloquet athletic director Tom Lenarz to change girls hockey coaches means that for the first time since the Bill Kennedy days, Dick Bartholdi will no longer be involved with a Cloquet hockey program.

"Bart," as he's universally known around town - and I think around the state - was a coaching pioneer in more ways than one.

He started coaching in 1967 and was hired at the same time as his fellow history teacher Kennedy.

"We were eating lunch together and [Kennedy] asked me if I could skate," said Bartholdi. "He invited me to practice and I never stopped [coaching]."

He's 65 now, and it does go to show something important: there are people who give an immense amount of their time and effort to a program and you can't deny that Dick Bartholdi has been one of those people.

For years, Bartholdi assisted Kennedy and then Tom McFarlane before taking a co-coaching role with current boys coach Dave Esse while McFarlane took a year's sabbatical.

That was his first head coaching experience at the varsity level, and it seemed natural for him to move to the newly founded girls program when it began play 13 years ago.

Four times in five years during the early part of the decade, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton teams went to state. They never won the big prize, but they represented us well and were a credit to the communities they represented on the statewide stage.

Yet all things change, and now the program is searching for a new mentor.

"I want people to know I harbored no ill will toward Dick," athletic director Tom Lenarz told me this week. "I harbor a lot of respect for him and I think everybody does."

Yet, in spite of all that, Bartholdi isn't ready to stop.

"I didn't want to go," he said. "I wanted to keep going. We worked too hard to build the numbers in the program to stop. We had two U-12 teams this year which we have never had before. Physically, I feel as healthy as I have ever been. I wanted to keep going but they decided not to. It's their decision, and I'm not totally sure what the reasons were if they get it down to two or three things."

As to where he would like to coach, he's not sure.

"I'd like to keep going, to try to coach somewhere," he said.

He leaves behind a legacy of a very successful program.

"When we started 13 years ago with the girls, I just figured if I worked hard, we could get a jump on some of these people [CEC's competitors]," he said. "Hibbing, Proctor, Grand Rapids and Duluth all started before we did."

However, the results show that catch-up was both quick and complete.

"I like the teaching part more than anything," he said. "I coached the summer program for 13 years and still get a kick out of coaching U-10s, U-12s or junior varsity. One has to think of what their purpose is as a person, where you can contribute and where you can help kids in hockey and life. I've decided that's what my purpose is."