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Wagner kept football alive at Dakota State in changeover ’84 season
December 8, 2011
MADISON, S.D. – Today, Al Weisbecker, who coached the 1984 football Trojans and a Dakota State Hall of Famer, emphatically insists that Dakota State Provost Robert Wagner is the savior of Trojan football here in Madison.
"He is the major reason why there is still football here at Dakota State," stressed Weisbecker.
He remembers the situation at Dakota State in 1983 and 1984.
In order to keep Dakota State a viable higher education institution during a tight economy, Gov. William Janklow directed the move to make then-Dakota State College the state's major computer education institution.
"With USD-Springfield closing, we were fighting for our lives," added Weisbecker. "With the change, a lot of majors that we had prior to the change were being dropped. It was creating a void for us in football."
A day of reckoning was on its way according to then-football coach and athletic director Tom Shea.
"In November of 1983, I was given the mission of dismantling the athletic programs by then-President Charles Luke," said Shea, who now is the Upper Iowa football coach at Cedar Rapids.
"When the news got out about that, a lot of our star players like Tony Wrice (who then transferred to Northwestern of Orange City, Iowa, and later had tryouts with such NFL teams like the Seattle Seahawks). We ended a successful '83 season just missing being crowned South Dakota-Iowa Conference champions."
"There were only 35 players on the practice filed that first day of practice in August," reported Weisbecker. "That number was drastically reduced the second day."
"When that happened, I informed Wagner (who had taken over in the interim for Luke) that I just couldn't go on and coach the team," said Shea. "It was the worst time I had in my entire life."
"The next question was 'would we have football?'," Weisbecker added.
The remaining coaching staff met with Wagner.
"He said the football program would not be dropped, and that was when I was appointed head football coach," said Weisbecker.
Joining Weisbecker on the staff was Tom Maurer, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. (Maurer was the college's director of career planning and placement, and was a former USD-Springfield instructor and coach.)
Larry Traetow became the Trojans' offensive coordinator. Traetow already was on DSC's faculty, coming over to Madison that summer, fresh from a coaching stint at Mankato (Minn.) State.
Mark Whealy, a graduate student athlete at Dakota State, was tabbed the team's line coach.
Maurer, who would become Dakota State's athletic director (1996-99), was definitely a players' coach.
"The guys deserved a chance at completing their education and playing football at the same time," said Maurer. "We had enough excellent talent back (from the '83 team) to have a football team in 1984. I really felt that they should have their chance to play."
"The guys wanted to take on the challenge. They used the situation as kind of a chip on their shoulders."
When the word got out that there would be a football season (albeit with the first two scheduled non-conference games, which were canceled), a short-term recruiting session was held to bring the Trojans' numbers up to 41 players.
(Maurer is now a public relations representative in Sioux Falls' Lawrence & Schiller.)
"Tom provided all of us with a lot of stability throughout that time, but Larry with his sense of humor kept the guys fairly lose," stressed Whealy, now a financial specialist for Transamerica here in Madison. "Al, however, was the right kind of guy to be our head coach. He had been through a lot of ups-and-downs and kept us steady."
"We had a number of players on that team who were very good, but obviously, we weren't very deep," Whealy added. "We had a pretty good bond with the kids. By the time the season ended, we had a solid football team, ending up with a 2-5-1 record."
Traetow was literally 'the new kid on the block.'
He needed the job because his family was set to arrive here from Mankato in that September.
"I was in it for the long haul," admitted Traetow, who is now the full-time principal at Jackson (Minn.) County Central School in Jackson.
As a one-time SDIC player himself, Traetow was well aware of the Trojans' football history, and what the mission change meant to Dakota State.
"It was one heckuva change for Dakota State, which prior to 1984, had a rich tradition of winning," he said. "I just think we had bunch of fine guys who put in a whale of an effort to make a go of it to have that 2-5-1 record that season."
(Traetow became the Trojans' head coach for the next three seasons before joining that staff at Dakota Wesleyan. He later became assistant principal and head football coach at Jackson for 16 years before taking the head principal's position this past fall.)
As for Weisbecker after the '84 season, he felt that his best coaching opportunity would be to take up the offer of Black Hills State's athletic director, Lynn Schuett. He was the Yellow Jackets' defensive coordinator and assistant track coach for the next few years.
Later, Weisbecker worked a number of 'civilian' jobs before returning to Dakota State's track coaching staff. He is now the executive director of the South Dakota Senior Games and is a Senior Games athlete himself.
At the end of the 1984 season, five Trojans were selected as All-SDIC team members. They included Brian Lund, offensive lineman; Bill Nelson, defensive back/quarterback; Sylvester Clark, defensive end; Michael Thorpe, tight end and Rod Kopfmann, running back. Shortly thereafter, Nelson was selected as an NAIA All-American.
(Coming next will be the players' perspective on that crossroads '84 season.)
Dan Holsworth, Dakota State University Athletics Assistant
Edited by Nick Huntimer, Dakota State Unviersity Sports Information Director