Thole: Pinewood derby attempt goes down in flames

By GEORGE THOLE — Stillwater Gazette

I’m asked from time to time about my toughest defeat and I quickly fire back that the 1986 last-second 22-21 loss to state champion Apple Valley in the state semifinals at Parade Stadium caused me the most angst.
That game was a heart-breaking barn burner, but the pinebox derby 14 years earlier was a totally humiliating experience. In the fall of 1972, I was coaching a Ponies football team that was in the midst of a 3-4-2 season — we were fighting for every yard we could muster.
My son Eric ’84 was a Cub Scout and my wife Karen was supervising his building of a pinewood derby car in preparation for the annual derby. Eric managed to fashion a car whittled by his trusty scout knife, painted with black shoe polish with red stripes to honor the Ponies.
I offered to take him to Lily Lake for the grander-than-I-thought derby event. We excitedly headed to the elementary school completely unaware of the derby Armageddon waiting for us.
Even though we were new to Stillwater, I was aware that many 3M engineers resided here, but I didn’t know that ALL their kids were Cub Scouts. The realization that our black box of a race car was in over its head came when we saw the sleek fleet of state-of-the-art cars in the hands of the opposition. They looked like they were made by Matel, Tonka and General Motors — in other words, it was clear that they were not made by 7-to-8 year old Cub Scouts. This was a dads’ event and these were Indy cars.
In our first race we were dead last and continued to finish last in two more races. Next, they lined up a four-car losers race with entries that looked like they were hand-carved with scout knives. The one car that looked closest to ours was yellow and resembled a school bus.
I smelled victory.
We got off to a good start and actually led halfway through, before two cars flew by us, but we were holding third with the school bus sitting a distant fourth. I’m thinking we might leave Lily Lake with our heads up when just three inches from the finish our black box Ponies car lost its wheel as the yellow school bus slipped past to finish third.
In the words of the late Bob Utecht: “Nuff said.”

In the huddle
Brothers Kevin ’08 and Eric Hilpert ’11, a pair of former standout Ponies tennis players, recently advanced to the semifinals at the Northern Tennis Open in Duluth before getting eliminated. The brothers each served as captains while playing singles and doubles at SAHS. Kevin played four years at St. Scholastica in Duluth and Eric recently finished up his freshman season at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa…. It is not necessary for a youngster to begin playing football at an early age, which is what many team sports require. Hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer require early training and development and it is not unheard of for their participants to be more than casually involved as early as age 5 or 6. If a young boy who hasn’t been involved in organized football decides as a 9th- or 10th-grader that he wants to be on his high school team, there is a good chance that there will be a place for him on the roster. There are players in the professional ranks that did not play high school football, but began their playing careers in college. I’m not saying this is the best route to take for a SAHS varsity grid career, but there are some success stories…. The Jim McLaughlin Scholarship Committee again did yeoman work with this year’s selections of Allison Eder-Zdechlik, a hockey and softball standout, and Tom Linner, who shined in cross country and track while also participating in Nordic skiing. The award named for the former Gazette sportswriter and local radio personality provides a $2,500 scholarship for each recipient. Athletes voted MVP in their respective sports are selected based on citizenship, scholarship and leadership. Laura Indereiden won the inaugural award presented in 1981, which was the year of McLaughlin’s passing. Only one athlete was selected until 1988 when Sharm Scheuerman and Danelle Zaspel were selected and the male-female format has been in place ever since…. SAHS football coach Beau LaBore reports that the second annual football camp for players entering grades 3-6 is set for Monday, July 30 through Friday, Aug. 3. Cost is $60 and includes a camp t-shirt. Sessions are from noon to 2 p.m….. Several Ponies softball players dotted the rosters of college teams this spring. The first who comes to mind — and my mind is fading by the week — was standout hitter Madie Eckstrom, who had a solid freshman season with the Minnesota Gophers. Kelsey McQuillan is an infielder at St. Ben’s and will be a junior next season. Chelsey Falzone plays for Bethel and Sammie Wagner for Augsburg. With the return of ace pitcher Hannah Heacox, Haley Balzart, Allison Pasiuk, Natalie Gerber, Carlie Hart, Rachel Hartwig and Rachel Rhode, to name a few, coach Bob Beedle ’69 is all smiles when planning defense of his 2012 state title…. IF you want to email me go to: georgethole@gmail.com…. After watching ESPN, I become interested in the Olympic aspirations of former LSU hurdler LoLo Jones. She was the last to qualify in her event and has recovered from injuries to pursue her dream. I hope she gets the gold because it would be a terrific story of courage…. Stillwater’s Ron Knutson used a 6-iron to ace the 159-yard 13th hole at Sawmill Golf Course on July 19…. Can you older guys believe that Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman of yesteryear, recently turned 63? How about Sally Struthers, Archie Bunker’s daughter and Meathead’s wife on the popular but long-gone “All in the Family” television series, turning 64 (but not still turning heads)?…. Don’t tread on me, because I can’t cope…. finis

Today’s rumination #576
Success usually comes to those who are too busy to look for it.
• • • •
George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: gthole@acnpapers.com

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