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Twenty-five years on the sidelines

Most of the young women who play Park High soccer leave with memories of their coach cautioning them at the end of each practice.

"Have a chemical-free weekend," is Greg Juba's usual line.

That, and the persistent desire to help the girls feel good about themselves, are mantras he hasn't changed since he set foot on the field with the first girls team to play soccer in School District 833.

That was 25 years ago.

To celebrate his longevity in the sport, past players, current players, parents, friends, coaches and administrators he has worked under filled the cafeteria Aug. 21 to honor him. Among his former players are women, such as Stacy Paleen, who are now teachers working in the district.

Not every soccer player appreciates Juba's style, which can seem gruff or abrupt. Don't expect flowery speech from this coach.

"I'm not a huggy guy," he said.

On the other hand, he knows each player's name and a lot of personal information about her -- not because he thinks that is necessary to be an effective coach -- it's just his nature.

When players are asked their opinion about Juba, most say he cares about them.

"He says 'have a chemical- free weekend' every Friday," said Katherine Jury, who is playing this fall. "He has a lot of respect for players."

"He's always pushing you," said Kari Frankenberg, who also plays golf in the spring under Juba. "Some people don't think so, but he is patient. He doesn't let you get down about small things. You feel better about it and keep going."

"We try to do good work in the classroom and on the field," Juba told those who attended his surprise party.

The word "we" is always there when he talks about soccer or golf teams. "They are not 'my kids' or 'my team,'" Juba said in an interview after the celebration.

But why would Juba, the father of three sons, care about helping girls achieve success playing varsity sports?

Butch Moening, former athletic director and now principal of South St. Paul High School, said Juba, "single-handedly, brought girls soccer to the district."

"He told me 'We have to make girls feel good about themselves," Moening said. "There are many girls who stay in touch with him. That happens because he cares. He always cares about his players and has touched the lives of thousands of kids."

Caring about girls overcoming stereotypes and being successful in sports might have evolved from Juba's own experience with not being fully physically able to play soccer, football or basketball at a high level. He plays golf but has physical limitations that can be seen from scars on his body and the way he walks.

When someone asks, Juba says he had a run-in with a tiger at a zoo.

"I thought up that story in the fourth-grade," he said. If there is a real story, few people know it.

After 27 years of teaching in the same school district, Juba is an example of "bloom where you are planted."

Throughout high school and college, Juba worked eight years at the same store. He also kept his second job during his four years as a math major at St. John's University. He said his longevity at his previous jobs helped him get the job at the old St. Paul Park Junior High.

"Dan Kaler was the principal," Juba said. "He noticed I was working two jobs. He said 'It looks like you like to stay in one spot. What happens if it doesn't turn out to be a good fit?' he asked me."

"I told him it would just be harder to make it fit," Juba said.

Growing up in the middle of two sisters and two brothers, Juba followed his father, teacher and football coach at Robbinsdale High School, to the field.

"Students don't believe it when I tell them, but I was the water boy when I was in kindergarten," Juba said.

Skip Peltier, then District 833 athletic director, hired Juba, after two years in the junior high, as a math teacher to be the first girls soccer coach at Park High School. During the first three years, it was combined team with Woodbury High School girls.

Peltier said he led Juba to believe he had many applications for the job when, in truth, he had none.

During his praise of Juba during the celebration, Peltier said Juba didn't know much about soccer. To make sure he would not leave the post after a year, Peltier made him agree to stay three years.

Juba said the agreement was for four years and that he knew more about soccer than he let on. "I had buddies in college that played soccer and St. John's soccer team was one of the best in Division Three," he said. "I coached a coed team for two years."

Ask Juba about a game, whether it was yesterday or 10 years ago, and he can recall who scored and how well or poorly the team played -- with emphasis on positive things the team achieved. Among Park soccer teams' many appearances in post season tournaments, is a state championship in 1990.

He had a plan in junior high school to become a math teacher and coach high school sports. So far, after 27 years, it seems his plan is working out.

Although Juba maintains he was just trying to get the state soccer coaches association to direct its attention to helping kids, Peltier sees it in another light.

"The association works well," said the retired director of the Minnesota State High School League. "It's largely due to his leadership."

Juba, he said, has passion, dedication and loves the game. "Those players are going to teach it to their kids," he said.

While he appeared pleased and grateful for the praise, Juba is more comfortable talking about the soccer team's chances this year.

"We hope we can beat Woodbury," he said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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