Large crowd salutes Munsen at last regular-season home gameAn estimated crowd of 2,200 saluted Munsen one more time in his final season of coaching high school basketball Tuesday night.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Gary Munsen’s children weren’t about to miss an opportunity like this.
For one final time, the four of them got together to see their father and longtime Mitchell boys’ basketball coach work the sidelines at the Corn Palace.
Stacey, Scott, Shana and Sam Munsen were all in attendance to see Munsen’s Kernels (16-3) beat Watertown 61-47 Tuesday night. It was the first time since May 2010 they’ve all been together, and they were a small percentage of a huge crowd that showed up to see Munsen’s final regular-season home game.
“It’s very few and far between when we’re all together,” said Sam Munsen, a Mitchell resident and the youngest of four children. “It’s a special night, and it’s a special night to have all us together.”
An estimated crowd of 2,200 saluted Munsen one more time in his final season of coaching high school basketball Tuesday night. This year is Munsen’s 47th overall year of coaching and 39th year as the head boys’ coach at Mitchell. Before the season, he announced this would be his last year at the helm of the Kernels.
The four Munsen children were sitting courtside along with other family members and White Lake natives. Stacey Munsen, the second-oldest child, flew from Kaneohe, Hawaii, on a $1,000 round-trip plane ticket just to see the game.
“His whole life, coaching is all we’ve ever known him as,” Stacey said.
Shana Munsen flew in from Denver.
“We don’t get home very often, but I know I would feel horrible if I wasn’t here,” she said.
By the time tipoff came, yellow and black T-shirts were dominant in the Corn Palace crowd. Many of the shirts worn were commemorating Munsen, with the front of the T-shirt showing a picture of Munsen’s face and the back listing the coach’s accomplishments.
Before the start of the game, the school’s championship banners were lowered. This happen each game as a symbol of Munsen’s success. He has nine boys’ state championships and three with the Mitchell girls. When Mitchell’s starting lineup was announced, no cheer was louder than when Mitchell’s head coach was named just moments before tipoff.
“I think this means a lot of people love this program and they love me, too,” Munsen said of the large crowd.
Munsen shared stories, received handshakes and exchanged hugs with people he’s impacted throughout his career.
When the final horn sounded, a group of Munsen’s former players took the court to be recognized on the Corn Palace court. Mitchell Activities Director Geoff Gross said more than 100 of Munsen’s former players and coaches were in attendance.
Memories, stories and jokes were shared with the Corn Palace crowd after the game when each player shared something about Munsen they remembered. Munsen received a standing ovation from the people in the building, and KMIT radio sports director Tim Smith handed Munsen a round-trip ticket to Hawaii, given by Smith and the radio station.
When Munsen finally took the microphone to address the crowd, he got emotional.
“I don’t know if I can get through this or not,” he said. “I’ve had some great, great players … and I want to thank the fans. Thank you. I don’t know what else to say. It’s been a great, great time.”
The Kernels have one more regular-season game before the district playoffs start. Mitchell plays at Aberdeen Central at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in its season finale in Aberdeen.
If the Kernels win, they’ll have at least a share of the Eastern South Dakota Conference title and will hold the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the district playoffs.