Ron Stolski and Jon Roe grew up as friends in north Minneapolis. They were part of a baseball team formed by kids from Bohanon Park.
There was a local gentleman named Marv Nelson who would recruit kids from several neighborhoods and field teams under the label Marv’s Place.
“That was the powerhouse team in youth sports,’’ Roe said. “This was early junior high age, and we were playing Marv's Place in a championship game. I was in right field. In other words, everyone was hoping the ball wouldn’t be hit to me.
“It was … a routine fly ball with two outs in the last inning. If I catch it, we win. I dropped it. They won. I was wrecked.’’
The boys from the losing team were riding their bikes home. Roe was lagging behind, disconsolate, using the excuse that his bike wasn’t working.
“Ron was a great athlete; he could’ve been more upset about losing than anyone,’’ Roe said. “Instead, he dropped back and started riding slowly. He said, ‘Jon, it’s OK, it’s a ballgame. There’s going to be another one. Everything is fine.’
“Why does Stolski keep going? He loves to coach. He was already coaching that day we were riding our bikes home after my calamity in right field.’’
Roe is retired after a career as a sportswriter, most of it at the Star Tribune. Stolski, 78, still is going as a coach, and will bring his Brainerd Warriors to U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday night to play Owatonna in the Class 5A state semifinals.
Brainerd advanced through the quarterfinals with a 24-7 victory over St. Louis Park last Saturday in St. Cloud. Charlie Geraets took the offensive load, carrying a state-record 55 times for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
The quarterback was Joe Stolski. Occasionally, he would fake to Geraets and keep the ball, or throw a pass. He’s a senior and the last of Stolski’s three grandsons living in the Brainerd area.
Stolski had been pulled aside for a TV interview. He finished that, offered a few more handshakes and back slaps, and then I asked the question:
“Your team has made it to the new dome. The last grandson in Brainerd is a senior quarterback. Is this it?’’
Stolski laughed and said: “No, no … not even thinking about it. Coaching these kids is too much fun.’’
Steve Foy runs estate sales and similar events out of a 7,000-square-foot building in Brainerd that used to be a bank. “It was robbed by Baby Face Nelson in 1933 … the First National Bank,’’ Foy said. “We still have the vaults.’’
Foy had three sons play for Stolski, all captains: Mike in 1997, Chris in 2002 and Matt in 2007.
“Ron enjoys the kids — all of them — more than he enjoys football,’’ Foy said. “I just ran into him at the gas station where he gets a cup of coffee every morning, and we talked for 20 minutes.
“Some about the last game, but mostly about sophomores and ninth-graders that he sees can be the future of Warriors football.
“He’s incredible. He’s a football poet. He’s a great writer. He sends notes — more letters, really — on the ‘Warrior Way’ to kids in the sixth and seventh grade.’’
The Warrior Way has been Stolski’s motto for decades. It is not passed along loudly or in the name of self-promotion. It centers on knowledge, attitude and poise.
Respect is big with the Warriors, and it’s a two-way street.
“Football is a game of ebb and flow,’’ Stolski said. “We don’t go in and scream at halftime. We ask the players, ‘What do you see?’ and then make adjustments. Screaming doesn’t get it done.’’
Stolski is a former English teacher (“I loved it’’) and was a long-serving athletic director at Brainerd. He was retired from those tasks in 2005, and the Minnesota Football Coaches Association decided it needed an executive director. Stolski took the job and has stayed in that role.
He became an admirer and then a friend of Jerry Kill. “He did more for this state and Gophers football in too short of a time than most people can understand,’’ Stolski said. “That Athletics Village could have Jerry Kill’s name on it.’’
Stolski’s father, John, worked at a now-abandoned grain elevator near the university. He also was a bouncer at Mike’s Bar, “the toughest bar in town,’’ Ron said.
“He was a rugged man, but he also loved to fish,’’ Stolski said. “On Saturday morning, he would wake up my brother and me at dawn and we would drive up [Hwy.] 169 to Mille Lacs.’’
Stolski graduated from Macalester with an education degree, first coached eight-man football at Kensington, then went to Slayton, Princeton and a new school, Park Center, before being hired at Brainerd as AD and football coach in 1975.
“Coaching football, catching fish, sitting in the deer stand … Ron loves it all in Brainerd,’’ Steve Foy said. “And we all love him and his wife, Sharron.’’
Ron Stolski has been a coach for life. You have Jon Roe’s word on that.