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The grandfather of golf

Tressel, shown here with senior Jake Miller, is the only coach of a boys-only team in Park's history to win a state championship. In 2008, he led the Park boys golf team to the Class 3A state title. (Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson)2 / 2

For Park head boys golf coach Hank Tressel, this year will be especially golden.

The grandfather of boys golf is celebrating his 50th year of coaching -- the same year as his 50th wedding anniversary.

But, what's been more enjoyable -- coaching or marriage?

"When women ask me that question I always say marriage is more fun," Tressel said. "When guys ask I say, 'What do you think?'"

At 75 years old, Tressel is believed to be the eldest head coach in the state.

"People look at me and say, 'Well, as long as you've got your health, then fine, go for it,' Tressel said. "I've been blessed with good health. I think I've only ever missed about three days of work."

Tressel has been around so long, coaching legend Charlie Whitbred -- who retired after coaching softball for 29 years and who will have the varsity field named for him -- was a student in one of Tressel's classes.

"Yeah, but Charlie's a winner," Tressel said. "He's won a lot. I'm just messing around."

Despite joking that he's only "messing around," Tressel is the only coach of a boys-only team in Park's history to win a state championship. In 2008, he led the Park boys golf team to the Class 3A state title. Since 1943 Park had been to state as a team only two times previously, in 1995 and 2000, but has almost always been competitive.

"We've been in the hunt almost every year," Tressel said. "I don't remember ever finishing in the lower half of the section tournament. We've usually had a team who did well at the end of the year and made a run at going to state."

Tressel gives much of the credit for the golf program's success to River Oaks Golf Course being in the community. River Oaks opened in Cottage Grove in 1991.

"The original idea was to not only have it available for kids to play, but to dedicate time for kids to play," Tressel said. "There have been a lot of kids that have played there and the staff is very kid-friendly. It's paid off."

Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel said Tressel acts as a calming force on the Park coaching staff and said he's passed on a lot of knowledge to a number of coaches.

"One of the things that stands out is that golf has been very, very steady," Kuemmel said. "There have, obviously, been some years that he's had exceptional talent and some years that he's had good talent. Hank, year-in and year-out, is that steadying force behind the golf program. He's also kind of the steadying force behind the Park coaching staff as a whole."

Tressel's roots go back to Shattuck-St. Mary's

In all, Tressel has coached golf, softball, track, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, hockey and football since 1960.

Tressel, who is originally from Edina, began teaching at Faribault's Shattuck-St. Mary's in the junior school from 1960-64, then taught at Arlington-Green Isle for one year, before coming to Park, where he taught ninth-grade social studies.

He began coaching football in the fall, hockey in the winter and track in the spring at St. Paul Park Junior High School. Tressel was also Park's first ski coach. Former Activities Director Norm Larson asked Tressel to start the ski program. At the time, Park had a boys and girls alpine team, a boys and girls cross country team and even a ski jumping team that competed at Harrington Hill. Tressel retired from teaching in the late 1990's, but came back on a couple occasions to help out.

"I know Hank looks back very fondly on all the Park sports," Kuemmel said. "He really cares about Park sports as a whole. Hank has a lot of connections to many, many different sports at Park. I know he'd do anything he could to help any of those programs succeed."

Tressel began coaching golf while at Shattuck-St. Mary's. He said, at the time, he had a long enough lunch break to get in a quick nine holes at the school's course.

"I thought that'd be fun, so I took the game up," said Tressel, who played in the Minnesota state amateur in the late '60s. "I enjoyed the challenge of it. That kept my interest going. When the opportunity came up I asked if I could have the job."

There may be some who feel it is time for Tressel to move on and for someone new to move in. However, Kuemmel said the longtime coach's state title may earned him credit with any possible naysayers.

"You hate to say that someone needs something like a state title to hold your hat against," Kuemmel said. "Nothing changed for me. I've known he's an exceptional coach and really has created positive experiences for kids. But, I think that title really helped if there were some people who had those thoughts out there. He obviously had some really good golfers -- Hank would be the first one to say that -- but he also proved he is a very good coach."

Tressel said winning the state championship was the greatest moment of his 50-year coaching career. However, coaching Park's freshman football team in 1990 also stood out to him. The star of the team that year was 1994 grad multi-sport star Sam Jacobson -- who is considered one of the best Minnesotan basketball players in history.

"We had more fun and the ball was in the air so often," said Tressel, who coached football for over 20 years. "We got scored on maybe once or twice, but we just steamrolled everybody."

In addition to teaching and coaching, Tressel also has been working at Afton Alps for 34 years and still does today. In the summer, Tressel places pins by cutting holes in the greens of the course. In the winter he works on the ski hill.

Tressel lives on 12 acres outside of Hastings with his wife Carol. He has also been on the Ravenna Township board for over 30 years and is the chairman of the Dakota County Township Officers Association. The Tressels have three children -- Peter, Sarah and Ann, who all live in the metro area.

Tressel said it's his goal this year to help the Wolfpack get back into the state tournament.

"We have four seniors and two juniors, who are all experienced," he said. "They're really eager and hungry to do well."

But, the big question could be if this is Tressel's last year.

"I won't answer that question," he said. "I'm smarter than that."

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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