Thursday, March 30, 2017

More sad news

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog."
Joe Traen, shown in the 1987 Brooten high school yearbook.

*NOTE: this blog article was updated at 20:47 on Thursday night. I posted an incorrect date a short while ago on the funeral.

Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran head wrestling coach Joe Traen passed away early on Wednesday morning this week. He just completed his 27th season as head coach at Watertown-Mayer high school and recently picked up his 400th career coaching win on February 3. He was 59 years old when he died while on a routine, three-mile morning jog before school around his neighborhood in Watertown. The apparent cause of death was a heart attack.

Coach Traen was head coach of the Brooten Buccaneers wrestling program from 1983 to 1988. He was co-head coach of the very first B-B-E Jaguars wrestling team with Chuck Marks in 1988-89, a team that won the Prairie Conference title. Traen was a staff member at Brooten elementary school from 1983 until he resigned in July 1989. He taught Physical Education for grades K-6, including six of my seven years attending Brooten elementary.

One of his former colleagues at Brooten elementary said it best, "Joe was a super, super nice guy. He always had a smile and was just amazing with the kids. I feel he was the finest P.E. teacher Brooten ever had. This is very sad news. Joe was one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of teaching with. He treated EVERYONE with kindness and respect. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and two sons."

As a youngster, Coach Traen wrestled as a Canby Lancer in high school before graduating in 1976. During his senior year, Traen won the 112-pound title in Region III and competed at the state wrestling tournament where he earned a fourth-place medal. Two of his Lancer teammates, Fred Full and Jeff Merritt, won state titles in 1976, with Full winning his second title in a row.  Traen then attended Willmar Community College before earning his B.S. degree at St. Cloud State University in 1981.

Fun facts: when he was a senior, Traen's Canby Lancers team made it to the state tournament in the first year they held it in a two-class dual meet format (1976) at the St. Paul Civic Center. In 1975, the Lancers were state runners-up with Traen on the team wrestling at 105 pounds. In that year, Minnesota had just one class of wrestling. Back to his senior year, the Lancers brought a perfect 13-0 record into the 1976 team state tournament. They repeated a run to the state title match in 1976, facing St. Michael-Albertville, who they beat for the program's first state wrestling championship in a 16-0 season. (Canby also won state titles in 1977 and 1979 and many more in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.)

As head coach of the Brooten Buccaneers, Traen's teams won around 50 dual meets in five seasons. I have to go back and look up the exact number. In the 1984-85 season, his Buccaneers won the District 20 tournament for the first time in Brooten history and competed at the Region 5A tournament, where they lost to St. Michael-Albertville 39-17 in the semifinals. Four of his five Buccaneers wrestling teams won Prairie Conference titles (1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987), so in five of his six years coaching here, his teams won conference titles.

Coach Traen's 1987-88 team in Brooten was loaded with junior high wrestlers. They started the dual season 0-4 but rallied to finish the season with a 6-5-1 dual meet mark. That was the final year of Buccaneer wrestling, but that team's record was important as it meant that no Buccaneer wrestling team ever finished with a sub-.500 dual meet record (1970 to 1988)!

The nucleus of Coach Traen's last Buccaneers team later became part of a powerful 1989-1990 Jaguars wrestling team that won the West Central South Conference title and finished with a 13-2 dual meet mark under head coach Chuck Marks.

Coach Traen guided numerous wrestlers at the state tournament during his 33 years of coaching the sport in Minnesota. I don't have an exact grasp on those records, but I know a handful of his Brooten/B-B-E wrestlers earned hardware at the state tournament from 1984 to 1989.

From memory, I know that one of the Presler boys finished as a state runner-up in March 1987 at the wrestling tournament. Greg Schmitz won his state title as a senior in 1985, during Traen's second year leading the team.

I am very sad about this right now. He was perhaps one of my favorite elementary teachers at Brooten elementary school in the 1980s. Putting aside his coaching prowess, he was a truly kind and caring man with a big heart. I'll never forget his hearing his soft-spoken voice, "Try your best! You can do it! I know you can!" while encouraging me or my classmates in Phy Ed class in a variety of activities from broom ball to climbing the rope in the gym to kickball or soccer or wrestling and everything in between.

I'll never forget him - even though my memories of him are over 27 years old!

"He died too young."

As sad as this is, I look forward to visiting with his sidekick on the mats in Brooten - Bud Heidgerken - who was Traen's assistant coach from the 1983-84 season through 1989. Heidgerken was one of the two founding coaches of the Brooten Buccaneers wrestling program, along with Don Larson, back in 1970-71. I can only imagine the stories he has about Coach Traen!

Subscribers to my Bonanza Valley Voice newspaper will be able to read much more in the April 6 issue.

*Update on Thursday night: according to one of his former Brooten wrestlers, the funeral for Coach Traen will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4 at Watertown-Mayer high school. He leaves behind his wife, Deborah, and two sons who both wrestled for him, Andrew and Adam. From my light amount of digging on The Guillotine website plus the Watertown newspaper, Adam was a W-M high school graduate of 2016. Andrew is just a few years older.

Here is the link to his official obituary (which will be posted on Friday, March 31):

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