With 3,200 students in grades 9-12, Wayzata High School is the state’s largest high school. But that wasn’t always the case.
In 1959, with a graduating class of 124, it was one of the two smallest high schools (along with Mound) in the nine-team Lake Conference.
But in March 1959, Wayzata, coached by Jack Thurnblad, won the boys basketball state title for the first — and only — time. Thurnblad, who coached at the high school and college level for 40 years, called that state title the most memorable of his career.
“Winning a state championship with great people like that was the highlight of my athletic career by a long shot,” Thurnblad told the Star Tribune in March 2017.
The longtime coach and administrator died Feb. 12 at his home in Northfield. He was 96.
After coaching Wayzata to the state title in 1959 — his fifth season at the school — Thurnblad became the basketball coach at his alma mater: Carleton College in Northfield.
He spent the next 30 years coaching at Carleton. He was the Knights’ basketball coach from 1960 to 1984 and golf coach from 1965 to 1989.
“Coach Jack was an ambassador for Carleton and for the game of basketball,” said Carleton men’s basketball coach Guy Kalland, who replaced Thurnblad in 1984 and is in his 34th season as the Knights’ coach. “We will miss his presence at our games, the postgame chats, his strong handshake and especially his smile after our victories. The passion he had for the game, but more importantly for his players even after they left Carleton, is an example all coaches should try to emulate. We’re proud to carry on his legacy.”
Thurnblad was born in Chicago. After graduating from St. Mel High School — he is a member of the Chicago City Catholic High School Athletic Hall of Fame — he enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington, Ill. He played both baseball and basketball there for one year before serving in the Navy during World War II. After the war, he enrolled at Carleton.
While at Carleton, he was named first-team All-Midwest Conference three consecutive years. Thurnblad, a 5-foot-8 guard, was the smallest player on the all-conference team. At the time of his graduation, he was the school’s all-time leading scorer.
After graduating from Carleton in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in history, he became a history teacher and baseball and basketball coach at Hastings High School. He spent five years there before moving to Wayzata in 1954.
Thurnblad, who had a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1946, also played amateur baseball during the summer. In 1951, he and former major leaguer Dick Siebert, who was coaching the Gophers baseball team, helped Litchfield win the Class AA state amateur title.
In addition to his coaching duties at Carleton, Thurnblad was named the school’s athletic director in 1970 and served on the NCAA Rules Committee from 1973 to 1979. He was an ambassador of basketball, giving lectures and clinics in Australia, Russia and Mexico. After retiring as golf coach in 1989, he served on the Minnesota Golf Association board for 13 years, and he was a charter member of Carleton’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Former Carleton men’s cross-country coach Bill Huyck said Thurnblad was “friendly, warm, outgoing, fair, positive, always helpful and tireless.”
Thurnblad is survived by sons Marty, Tim and Ted; daughter Ann Marie Zirbes; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Thurnblad’s wife, Jinny, whom he met in college and married in 1948, died in 2009. Services have been held.