A lifetime of fulfillmentAfter 52 years of coaching and at age 74, when the majority of his counterparts have long since retired in favor of golf, cabins and fishing, Paul Mork — who coaches New Life Academy’s football and girls basketball teams — said the fulfillment he gains from coaching keeps him going.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
In 1959 — the year Paul Mork began coaching — the movie “Ben-Hur” was released in Technicolor, the Vietnam War began, musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash, and Hawaii became a state.
After 52 years of coaching and at age 74, when the majority of his counterparts have long since retired in favor of golf, cabins and fishing, Mork — who coaches New Life Academy’s football and girls basketball teams — said the fulfillment he gains from coaching keeps him going.
“You must have received a lot back or you wouldn’t keep doing it,” Mork said. “I still enjoy doing it and still enjoy seeing people make progress. That’s what I’m praying for, you don’t have to win all the games, but just to help them make progress as people as well as athletes.”
Mork, who was elected to the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002, began coaching baseball, basketball and football at Wells High School, which is currently United South Central High School, and spent 32 years coaching football in White Bear Lake.
Between White Bear Lake and New Life Academy, Mork coached a variety of teams at Irondale, Blaine, Mounds Park Academy and Forest Lake.
Since 1959 Mork has never stopped coaching. He retired from teaching English to focus on writing a book, which he did over a two-year span, but still remained on the sidelines.
“I wanted to keep coaching, because I love to coach,” Mork said. “We kept coaching all the way through. The things that have happened must have been gratifying. There’s definitely a satisfaction in seeing the kids get rewarded, especially at a small school.”
Mork has had myriad successes in numerous sports, regardless of the field of play or the gender. In 1966, he led the White Bear Lake boys cross-country team to a state championship and brought the Bears boys basketball team to the state tournament in 1972. In 2002, Mork returned to state with the Irondale’s girls basketball team and in 2009, Mork directed the New Life girls basketball team to the state tournament.
When at Mounds Park Academy, Mork became acquainted with New Life Academy and NLA Activities Director Curt Wetsel. When the opportunity arose to help start the Eagles’ football program, Mork grabbed the reins.
“I like challenges when it comes to work,” Mork said. “When I step in the building at New Life Academy there’s just a really good feeling. There are just very good people there from the administration to the kids. There is a contagious energy, enthusiasm and spirit. It’s been very gratifying to work in an environment like that.”
Over 52 years, Mork said not too much has changed when it comes to coaching.
“Things like technology obviously are different and we need to be cognizant of that, but the games are the same,” Mork said. “The kids, yeah, are coming from the modern world with all its freedoms, but the players still want to be disciplined, still want to work hard and accomplish things. But the fundamentals of the games, they’re the same.”
Mork’s book, “The Power of Becoming: Achieving Personal Fulfillment,” was published in 2005. The book is a series of eight essays, revolving around the idea of physical, psychological and spiritual elements coming together to realize personal fulfillment and illustrate how to ‘become’ what you hope to.
“It was built on a motif that whether you are in the classroom or on a team, each year is a new year and what are you becoming?” Mork said. “People have different stances when it comes to religion. But, I like to believe that people are on the face of the Earth to do something. My perspective is that this is something I can do to serve and to help people.”
Mork has four grown children — a son and three daughters — and seven grandchildren. He has lived in White Bear Lake with his wife Marilyn, since 1965. He and “Mamie” have been married 52 years.
“They’ve all been very supportive,” Mork said. “The grandchildren love to come to the games, of course. My family and my wife have seen a lot of games obviously. We all know that it’s work, but they always say to keep doing it as long as I’m enjoying it.”
At this point, Mork has no plans of retiring, saying he assesses everything after each school year.
“I’m taking it year by year,” Mork said. “Compared to John Gagliardi at St. John’s and Joe Paterno at Penn State, I’m just a kid.”