Mike Tuschen, former players reflect on longtime Corsica-Stickney boys basketball coach's 37-year career
From the 1985-86 season to 2021-22, Tuschen led Stickney and, after consolidation, Corsica-Stickney to a total of 556 wins, eight state tournaments and two state championships.
CORSICA, S.D. — After 37 seasons spanning parts of five different decades, Mike Tuschen won’t be on the sidelines come the 2022-23 basketball season.
The longtime Stickney and, more recently, Corsica-Stickney boys basketball coach is retiring, leaving behind a legacy in the region with more than 500 career victories.
“Making that commitment to be a head coach, I’ve always told myself that if I couldn’t bring the energy, motivation and excitement to my athletes on a daily basis, I can’t expect that back from my program,” Tuschen said. “I’ve always thought it’s 100%, you’re either in or out, and I can tell that I’ve reached the point where it’s time to step away.”
It’s not just coaching that Tuschen is retiring from. Though he’ll continue to teach business and computer classes, he’s relinquishing his position as the school’s technology coordinator, as well.
Prior to taking over in Stickney in the 1985-86 season, Tuschen, who grew up in Spencer before moving to Mount Vernon prior to his seventh-grade year, had only ever coached summer baseball. But that season was the first of nearly four decades roaming the sideline, seeing through the eventual co-op and consolidation with Corsica and amassing a career record of 556 wins with just 256 losses.
In the weeks since the conclusion of the 2021-22 season, Tuschen has had time to start reflecting on his basketball coaching career, which featured just a single stop where he coached 13 all-state players, made eight state tournament appearances, won two state championships and became the eighth boys basketball coach in South Dakota history to surpass the 500-win threshold, doing so in December 2018.
“You look back at being around great kids and athletes and that atmosphere of what they’re like to be around,” Tuschen explained. “I’m realizing that memories are sometimes the little things but yet you’re going to cherish them for the rest of your life.”
While he’s no longer going to be a fixture on the Corsica-Stickney bench, life adventures are far from over for Tuschen. With six grandchildren, he’s likely to keep plenty busy.
As for the future of the Jaguars’ program, Tuschen is handing the baton to a familiar face. Luke Bamberg, who played for two seasons under Tuschen during the first seasons of the Corsica-Stickney co-op before playing basketball and baseball at Dakota Wesleyan, is set to take over as head coach in 2022-23.
“It’s just a great move going forward,” Tuschen said of Bamberg’s hire. “He’s got a lot of great ingredients and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the basketball program. I see a bright future, I really do. It’s going to be great to see that grow with him.”
However busy Tuschen will be with grandfatherly responsibilities, he’ll also likely continue to keep tabs on the Jaguars as a community member and spectator, something that will take some getting used to for someone who has devoted two-thirds of their life to the program.
“The idea of just watching, I’m sure a guy is going to feel that competitiveness. I think that’s something all coaches have and it’s hard to turn that off all of a sudden,” Tuschen said of the coaching mindset. “When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood. I don’t think it ever really goes away.”
The Republic asked a Mike Tuschen-coached player from each of the five decades his career spanned — the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s — to reflect on their former coach’s career and retirement. Here are their responses:
What memory from your time playing for Mike Tuschen stands out most?
Jerry Matzner, Class of 1989: Our 1988-89 team went 8-0 in the conference when I was a senior. We had expectations of facing Armour for a rematch in the district finals, however, we had a tough loss to a team we beat during the year. We didn’t play well at all, and I feel we were all looking ahead to our next game. Mr. Tuschen, obviously extremely disappointed, could have ranted and yelled after the loss, but he didn’t. He talked about remembering this feeling and using it as motivation in life. It was one of many life lessons learned from Mr. Tuschen and it was an honor to learn and play for him.
Shannon Tolsma, Class of 1994: One story that sticks out is we were having an open gym and Mike was playing with us. We were beating his team, and, if you know Mike, he is very competitive and started to get pretty intense. I went up for a rebound just like taught me to, and when I came down my elbow landed directly on his nose and broke it. I felt pretty bad, but he said it was OK. There are so many stories about things that happened and he gave me a lot of advice in practice and games that I still use today, but if know how intense and competitive he is you know that he could always get the best out of every athlete he ever coached.
Aaron Tuschen, Class of 2002: Just winning a state title my senior year is probably the most memorable. As a coach, he was always very good at bringing out good things and getting you to play at your top level. He knew how to bring everyone together and create a team atmosphere.
Luke Bamberg, Class of 2011: Our first co-op year in 2010 for boys basketball started with beating a handful of top teams in Class B and finished with an undefeated regular season of 20-0. Unfortunately, we fell short of a state tournament appearance and finished that year 21-1. We turned around the following year, and were able to win a state championship and capped off a great two-year run to start the co-op.
Cole Feenstra, Class of 2022: My favorite time but also the hardest time for our whole team was the night we lost to Platte-Geddes to go to the SoDak 16. It was an emotional night. Not only was it the seniors' last game of high school basketball, but we knew it was his last game coaching the game that he had so much passion for. He walked into the locker room at halftime and said, “No matter the outcome, I just want to say how proud I am of all of you.” He pushed us to limits that not all of us knew we could reach and never doubted anything we did.
What do you feel allowed Mike Tuschen-coached teams to experience such sustained levels of success?
Matzner: He cared about us as more than just athletes. I remember a feeling of never wanting to let him down and that motivated me. He was extremely competitive and it showed in how he prepared both on and off the court, but he also had fun with us. There was a time to be serious, but there was also a time to relax, smile and have some fun. It wasn’t just about the game.
Tolsma: His intensity and focus were contagious. He had a way of getting kids to buy into his program. If you played the Stickney Raiders, you knew it was not going to be easy with him coaching. We did not hope to win. We expected to win.
Tuschen: At the end of the day, it wasn’t how many games he won or lost. It was about leaving it all out on the court and trying your hardest, whether that be on the court or in the classroom. He was always trying to get you to perform at the best of your abilities.
Bamberg: Coach Tuschen’s pure passion and love for the game of basketball was second to none. The fire that was fueled during competition paved the way for his success year in and year out.
Feenstra: He is a great leader with a competitive heart. He strives for success and always pushes us to be the best players we can be while always giving us life lessons along the way. He has been around the game for a long time, has learned from it and then puts all of his knowledge into the next game.
How do you feel the commitment to staying with one program reflects on who Mike Tuschen was as a coach?
Matzner: I feel Mr. Tuschen could have jumped to a bigger, higher-profile job many times, but I don’t think that is who he was. I never felt that it was about him. For him to stay that long means he must have been comfortable and happy where he was at.
Tolsma: It's hard to imagine him not being part of the program. I think him being there as long as he shows his loyalty. I am sure he had offers to go elsewhere over the years and chose to stay.
Feenstra: He was a great coach and has always helped in the community, as well. He would always tell us, “I wouldn’t trade this team for anything.” He gets along well with everyone in the community and has gained a lot of respect from every one of us players.
What do you think area communities, especially Corsica and Stickney, will miss most now that Mike Tuschen won't be on the sidelines?
Matzner: His approach to teaching. I never had a coach or teacher spend one-on-one time with me as much as Mr. Tuschen did to teach fundamentals. Even in class, I remember him helping individuals with the techniques of typing or how to run the computer. I just always felt like he cared about all of us as individuals and wanted us to be better. His approach and how he taught will be hard to replace.
Tolsma: His experience is going to be hard to replace. And his toughness, you knew whatever happened during a game he always had your back. He had a fire that could not be put out. He was fun to watch coach because his enthusiasm is entertaining.
Tuschen: He’s developed a lot of good relationships with surrounding coaches, parents and players from other teams as well as his own, so I think he’ll be missed most on the relationship side of things.
Feenstra: I think everyone will miss his leadership. He would always come up with a play that would work. It would change the tempo and give us a confidence boost if we were down by a couple of points. I also think that his competitiveness will be missed.
What do you think Mike Tuschen will miss most about not being involved as a coach?
Matzner: I would say two things he will miss. First is the teaching aspect of coaching. Mr. Tuschen loved to show us techniques and the subtle aspects of playing the game of basketball. Secondly, I think he will miss the competitive nature of a basketball game. There aren’t many other things in work life that match the competition and intensity of a game.
Tolsma: He will miss the interaction with the kids, I think, and with the competitive spirit he has it will be tough to not be in the middle of the battle.
Tuschen: Probably just being around the game. He has a great passion for the game and being around the kids, teaching them and helping them grow.
Bamberg: I think the biggest thing Coach Tuschen will miss are the relationships he made throughout the years. Watching young kids develop on and off the basketball court, he has had a monumental impact on a huge number of individuals and teams that he has coached.
Feenstra: I think he will miss being able to watch a team that he coached go out and compete.