All-star football game packed with Ponies

Retired Stillwater football coach George Thole is slated to serve on Mike Grant’s staff for the South Team in this year’s MFCA Tackle Cancer All-Star Football Game at St. Cloud State University on June 28. (Gazette file photos)

Retired Stillwater football coach George Thole is slated to serve on Mike Grant’s staff for the South Team in this year’s MFCA Tackle Cancer All-Star Football Game at St. Cloud State University on June 28. (Gazette file photos)

This year’s Minnesota Football Coaches Association Tackle Cancer All-Star Game will have a strong representation from Stillwater — on both sidelines.

Hall of Fame football coach George Thole has been tapped by South Team head coach Mike Grant of Eden Prairie to serve on his staff for the 41st annual game (52nd overall), which will be held at St. Cloud State University’s Husky Stadium on Saturday, June 28.

Stillwater assistant coach Mark Elmer is slated to coach for the North Team in this year’s all-state football game.

Stillwater assistant coach Mark Elmer is slated to coach for the North Team in this year’s all-state football game.

“Obviously George and I go way back from my days at Forest Lake and I told him I wasn’t going to do it unless he could be on our staff,” Grant said. “The game of football has to be about having some fun so there’s two benefits. You get to be around a knowledgeable guy and a guy who’s a lot of fun for me. It’s good for the players on the team to have the opportunity to be around a legend like George. He might even tell a couple of stories.”

“Mike and I have always gotten along really well,” Thole added. “At age 75, I know for sure I will be the oldest guy on the field unless Bud Grant comes to visit.”

Thole will be on the opposite sideline from Stillwater offensive lineman Peter Palecek and Mark Elmer, a 2012 Butch Nash Award winner, who will be competing and coaching for the North Team. Palecek earned all-state honors as a senior this past fall and is an SCSU recruit. Elmer recently stepped down as defensive coordinator but will continue to coach players in the secondary under new defensive coordinator Mark Harris.

Peter Palecek

Peter Palecek

“(Elmer) did a great job for me, Scott (Hoffman) and now with Beau LaBore,” Thole said. “That will seem a little strange having the Ponies on the other side. I enjoyed watching (Palecek) play, but now I’ll have to come up with a way that he doesn’t leave this game happy — just kidding.”

Palecek will become the 56th Ponies player to compete in the all-star game and Elmer’s attendance grows Stillwater’s total participation to 63 when including coaches. Only Cretin-Derham Hall (including Cretin High School) can claim more participants than the Ponies.

Thole has previously been involved in the all-star game as the winning head coach for the South Team in 1976 and was an honorary coach for the victorious Metro Team in 2010. His son Eric Thole also helped quarterback the Metro squad to a victory in the 1984 contest.

“We have been a winner every time out. I just hope we’re successful this time,” Thole said. “I guess I’ve covered the bases all the way around in this game, which I think is always an honor for the players and coaches.”

After joking that Thole’s role on the staff could be “game historian,” Grant quickly added the coach will likely have the most input with the offense.

“I want him over with me on the offensive side, probably coaching the running backs,” Grant said. “We’ve got eight coaches and we’ll have the offense in by Wednesday. Then it’s a matter of making sure this whole event is a fun deal for everyone involved. This isn’t about the coaches, it’s about the players. This is not about trying to out-coach somebody, but trying to get the kids lined up right and let them have their night.”

Thole ended his coaching career with a sterling 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), 18 state tournament appearances and four state championships. Grant has built Eden Prairie into a state power while compiling a 241-24 record in 22 seasons, with 18 state trips and nine championships in 10 Prep Bowl appearances. His overall record in 31 seasons as head coach is 286-66.

“In the past, I used to show off my four state championship rings, but with Grant sitting there with nine I’m not going to bring that up anymore,” Thole said.

Since retiring after the 1999 season, Thole had not done any coaching since reuniting with long-time offensive coordinator Jerry Foley to coach one of the eighth-grade teams at Stillwater Junior High School this past fall.

“At my age, this is absolutely my last coaching,” Thole said.

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