ST. CLOUD – The low-volume beep ending class was heard and the 20 students in advanced literature for juniors at St. Cloud Cathedral rose from their desks in no big hurry, not on this Friday morning before the last week of school.
Bob Karn, the teacher of this and two earlier literature classes, had asked the students to read through the short story, "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," then read it again to see if they came away with the same reaction.
This would be the last reading from the chosen text for this class, "Perrine's Literature, Twelfth Edition," and Karn requested the students now leave those books on a desk at the front of the room.
As this was taking place, Ashley Vanden Einde stepped over and asked if it would be permissible to take a copy of another work on Karn's bookshelves: Emily Wilson's translation of "The Odyssey."
Karn said: "Ashley will be in our European literature class for seniors next school year, and Wilson's 'Odyssey' — it's wonderful — is part of our reading.
"We read Tolstoy, Kafka, great, provocative works. And to hear the perspectives of 17-year-olds, motivated and eager for all that's in front of them … these three hours a day I have classes are still thrilling for me as a teacher."
The visitor to Karn's last class on Friday mentioned that he saw considerable attention being paid to cellphones in the early going.
"I only pick battles that I have a chance to win," said Karn, smiling. "Cellphones are part of their existence. They need them."
Karn will turn 80 in August. He has been teaching English and literature at Cathedral since the fall of 1969. He has another task of similar longevity for which he is more famous outside the confines of Cathedral's school buildings:
He has coached baseball at Cathedral since the spring of 1970, one season as an assistant, and then the head coach since 1971.
This is Karn's 50th season of actual ballgames, since the COVID shutdown arrived in March 2020, before Cathedral had a chance to play last season.
Cathedral has won nine state championships, three in Class 1A (1977, 1980, 1988) in a two-class system and six in Class 2A during a three-class system (2001, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2014-15).
The Crusaders lost their opener in 2014, then didn't lose again until the ninth game in 2016, a winning streak of 58 games. Karn was named a national coach of the year by the American Baseball Coaches Association in 2015.
The dominance has given way in recent times to holding-its-own for Cathedral in the Granite Ridge Conference. Currently, Foley is rated No. 1 and Albany No. 4 in Class 2A. Cathedral is 8-7 after Friday night's home win vs. Pierz.
State titles or scrambling for wins, Karn's commitment to his players and for the game to which he is devoted doesn't change. He picks up one of his assistants, Nick Chanaka, and heads for 4:30 p.m. practice, or to a ballgame at Joe Faber Field, on a daily basis.
"Nick is a very unique coach, starting with the fact he's 93," Karn said. "He came to St. Cloud to play pro ball with the Rox in the old Northern League in the late '40s and has stayed.
"The players love Nick. He'll tell them great baseball stories, and he has ideas to pass along that will help them today. He also gets as worked up as ever with the umpires."
Karn has had another method for getting his players hooked into the game's past: "I ask the players to look up a player from the Negro Leagues who played the same position as they are playing, and to learn something about him."
Logan Simones is a second-generation player for Karn, following his father, Pat, from the mid-'90s. Simones is a center fielder, and that led him to the discovery of Turkey Stearnes, a Negro Leagues standout from 1923 through 1940, and now in Cooperstown.
Simones and his teammates had the honor of making Karn this state's first 800-game winner as a baseball coach, with a 10-2 victory over Zimmerman on April 22.
"He puts the emphasis on playing baseball, not working at baseball," Simones said. "I think it's a sweet deal to have someone with that much experience, to have a coach with that much love for the game."
Karn and his brothers, Jim and Jack, and all their pals grew up playing baseball on any open field they could find. They devoured the game. They would pedal their bikes to watch the Northern League pro team at Rox Park, and watch any game that popped up on TV.
"Our players all have a good time playing baseball," Karn said. "What they don't do is watch baseball. They look at the highlights, see a great play on their phone and watch that a few times.
"They don't watch, but playing? The essential joy of playing baseball is still there."
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