Washburn High School students were being led into a back entrance near the end of the school day on Wednesday. “Are you here for the pep fest?” a teacher asked as a civilian waited near the door.
My presence was explained, and a couple of minutes later Washburn football coach Ryan Galindo arrived. The Millers will be playing host to Mahtomedi in a playoff game on Saturday and the reporter mentioned the pep fest that his team was about to receive.
“It’s for our boys’ soccer team,” Galindo said. “They are leaving for a state tournament game. We have strong soccer for girls and boys. Soccer is big in south Minneapolis.”
Washburn won that game 1-0 over Centennial and will be playing Edina in U.S. Bank Stadium in the Class 2A semifinals Tuesday.
As for the football version, Galindo’s Millers were 6-2 in the regular season. Mahtomedi is 3-6 after clobbering North St. Paul 44-6 in a first-round playoff game Tuesday.
“We watched ’em,” Galindo said. “That wasn’t a 2-6 football team. That was a typical, hard-nosed Mahtomedi team. It’s going to be tough.”
Always is when a city team with 54 players, freshmen through seniors, is playing a suburban team that has a tradition and 90-plus players.
As for tradition, Washburn has that in its background, as Minnesotans with an interest in grassroots football were reminded this week with the death of George Wemeier at age 89.
Wemeier was the football coach at Washburn from 1966 through 1983. When Lou Holtz stormed into town in December 1983 to coach the Gophers, he wanted to add a Minnesota high school coach to his staff.
“Who should I get?” Holtz asked.
“Wemeier” was the answer, from everyone.
That would have been Ron Stolski’s answer, if Holtz had asked him. Stolski is 80 and still the coach at Brainerd. He was at Princeton and Park Center before arriving at Brainerd in the mid-’70s.
“I started putting together small clinics for area coaches,” Stolski said. “I’d have it upstairs at the Legion club. We had Stav Canakes from Edina, coaches like that, and they would do it for nothing.
“George came up in an early year. Two, three dozen coaches in the room, and George gave his presentation, offering his philosophies of offense and coaching in general.
“Everyone was wide-eyed. Later, we were having a couple of beers, me, Canakes, a few other coaches, and we agreed: As a coach, Wemeier was teaching trigonometry and we were all teaching ninth-grade math.”
Washburn already had a strong football pedigree when Wemeier, an assistant at Minneapolis Henry, was hired as the head coach. The Millers had been named as the state’s “mythical” football champion by the Minneapolis Tribune’s Ted Peterson in 1959 and 1962.
Richfield defeated Washburn during Wemeier’s first season of 1966. The Millers didn’t lose again until an 8-7 defeat against Henry in the 1973 season opener. That was a 60-game unbeaten streak, and 48 consecutive victories following a couple of ties in 1968.
The Millers were named as the Tribune’s champions in 1967. As the unbeaten seasons were put together starting in 1969, the Tribune awarded those mythical honors to Edina, Osseo and Moorhead.
Finally, a playoff system was undertaken in 1972. Wemeier’s Millers defeated Moorhead 26-8 in the first-ever Class AA (largest school) title game, in front of 16,000 fans at Met Stadium. Washburn won another title in 1977, defeating Stillwater 13-0 before 10,000-plus at Parade Stadium.
It was a grueling game on a slippery field, with four fumbles lost by each team. “The fumbles to some extent had to do with the footing,” Wemeier said. “When it’s slippery, your hands tense up quite a bit.”
Physiology to go with trigonometry from George.
Weimeier spent eight seasons at Minnesota; was an offensive coach at Augsburg, Hamline and St. Thomas; and later returned to Washburn as a volunteer offensive coach in 2007.
Pete Haugen was the Washburn coach. He had enough success with the Millers to be hired at Gustavus Adolphus in 2009, and he is now in his 11th season coaching the Gusties.
“Ryan [Galindo] was a young guy heading into his first year as our offensive coordinator, and I wanted Wemeier there to help him out,” Haugen said. “What I learned about George is he had more faith in a player’s ability to learn than any coach of my career.
“He believed that if we coached a player properly, he would absorb what we were asking him to do, and he would execute that in a game.”
Galindo saw that same quality.
“When we were practicing in ’07 at Washburn, and a player made a mistake, George would look at you and say, ‘Why did you not coach that player to do it the right way?’ ” Galindo said.
“I try to remember that every day. If a talented player is struggling, you have to do better as a coach.”
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