Red Wing was among Minnesota’s original high school basketball powerhouses. By 1991, hockey had become a strong presence and the Wingers had gone 19 years without making a trip to the state tournament.
Dick Beetsch was the coach, and he had two tremendous players — Richard Buck and Chris Baker — surrounded by several outstanding athletes. Buck was a Dakota Indian living on the reservation, and Baker lived in town.
Red Wing had a tradition of running a disciplined offense dating to the legendary coach Pete Petrich (1948-70). Beetsch was so giddy over the talent of Buck, Baker and that squad that he allowed them the freedom to fire away.
One January night in 1991, Beetsch referred to what Petrich would be thinking in his retirement in Arizona.
“Our kids having the green light to shoot … if Pete was dead, he would be spinning in his grave,” Beetsch said.
Red Wing lost in the section final to Owatonna. Buck and Baker didn’t get the chance to show their talent in what was a two-class state tournament.
Baker went to Division I Idaho State for three seasons, then returned to the Midwest and finished his career at tiny Viterbo College in Wisconsin. Buck went to Lake Region JC in Devils Lake, N.D., was the leading scorer halfway through the season, went home for Christmas and never returned.
“Iowa State, Utah and Coastal Carolina were three that talked to me,” Buck said. “My grades weren’t good at all. I had to go to junior college. Devils Lake was a long way from home. I missed my family.”
The most important family member was Clara Buck, his grandmother. “I was raised by her; she was everything to me,” Buck said. “My mother was around some, and my father … I never knew who he was.”
Buck was 21 when he had his first child, daughter Tesha, with his wife, Jess. “Things still were bad with me for a couple of years,” Richard said. “My son came along two years later. In ’97 or ’98, I had a car accident — not a bad one, but enough for me to say, ‘That’s enough.’ ”
Buck went through treatment. He turned his attention to being a father, a coach and a strong influence among the native people and in Red Wing in general.
“I’ve regretted every day not taking advantage of my talent,” he said. “I’ve tried to make sure that doesn’t happen with my kids, and the kids that I’ve coached.”
How complete was Buck’s athletic talent?
“I coached for almost 40 years and I would put Richard one or two when it came to pure talent,” said Beetsch, living in retirement in Red Wing. “He was strong as a horse. He could jump out of the gym. He was an outstanding rebounder … at 6-3, maybe the best I ever had. And he could shoot.
“One day, we were at Carleton in Northfield, watching a track meet. Richard went over to where the college boys were throwing the javelin. They gave him one throw, and it went farther than any of them.
“I’ve always said, when it comes to Red Wing, Richard Buck was our Jim Thorpe.”
Tesha Buck became a basketball star for Red Wing. His oldest son, Tyrell, is a basketball standout as a junior. More than that, he’s a power-hitting prospect in baseball.
Daughter Tayzha was on Red Wing’s varsity as an eighth-grader. The youngest of four is 10-year-old Deso.
Tesha accepted a basketball scholarship to Wisconsin-Green Bay. One day last summer, she showed up back in Red Wing. Like her father 22 years earlier, she was homesick and ready to bail on her basketball opportunity.
“I was out of town with Tyrell for baseball,” Richard said. “When I got back, I told Tesha, ‘You can come back to Red Wing if you want to, but I’ve regretted making that decision — giving up basketball — my whole life.’
“Tesha went back to Green Bay; she’s having a great time there.”
On Wednesday night, freshman Tesha Buck led Green Bay with 18 points in a last-second, 62-60 loss to the Gophers at Williams Arena, where the Phoenix was playing the Gophers in the first round of the WNIT. And Richard Buck was looking on as a proud and involved father.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org