OPINION: The book of Munsen
Gary Munsen once asked if I would be willing to write a book about his life. That request came in 2012, which was the final of 39 years Munsen was the head Mitchell High School boys basketball coach. Munsen received a heck of a send off that year...
Gary Munsen once asked if I would be willing to write a book about his life.
That request came in 2012, which was the final of 39 years Munsen was the head Mitchell High School boys basketball coach.
Munsen received a heck of a send off that year. He received standing ovations from opposing schools at away games. Then came his final regular-season home game in mid-February, a Tuesday night when the Corn Palace had about 2,200 basketball enthusiasts pack the gym to give their final salute to the longtime coach.
When asked after the game how special of a night it turned out to be, Munsen made some sly comment like, "It wouldn't have been very special if we would have lost." (The Kernels cruised to a double-digit win over Watertown).
Aside from speaking to him about the game that night, Munsen gave me a pat on the back for a long profile story I wrote about him that ran on the front page of the previous Saturday edition. It was 3,000-plus words, and I spent a long while researching Gary Munsen and exactly how much he impacted Mitchell basketball and the community.
A good portion of that research was done with Munsen at the high school in his old office. I had a long list of questions, going through his early days, how he got into coaching, his basketball memories, and some of his vices.
After about three lengthy interview sessions, and after calling some of his former players, assistant coaches and family members, it was easy to see Munsen had a massive impact, more than probably he even realized.
So, that was my final question to Munsen, and how I ended my story. I asked him something like, "You coached for more than four decades, hundreds of players have come and gone, but you've been here the whole time for all those kids, parents and community members. Do you realize how much of an impact you've made on so many people?"
Munsen, known for his fiery passion on the basketball court, broke down in tears.
"I've coached a lot of really good players," he said. "I'd do it all over again if I could. It means a lot to me that I had an effect on a lot of players, and I'm very proud of that."
At first, it was surprising to see Munsen become so emotional. But after thinking about it, that's what type of person he was. He was that way on the basketball court, in practice and he was never shy to say what he really felt.
He put everything into each player who was willing to give him the same. That's why so many people respected him.
On Tuesday, the day Munsen died, I thought about my few connections with him. I worked with him about seven years, which is a tiny window of time compared to many of the relationships he held.
As our newsroom started making calls to get reaction on Munsen's death, everyone we contacted had their favorite memory of the coach. It didn't matter if it was a player on his first team in the 1973-74 season or his final team in 2012, it was clear Munsen significantly influenced countless individuals.
I never turned Munsen down on his request to write his life story, but I could never commit to doing it, either. My job title changed a couple times, and my wife and I had our first child. Sadly, the timing was never right.
But after spending time researching him prior to his retirement, hearing his basketball stories and talking to so many people he influenced, it's easy to say he makes for a heck of a story.