Bonks adds to Hall of Fame coaching resume

HEADED TO ANOTHER HALL — Fairmont head cross country and track & field coach Bob Bonk, shown being interviewed by KEYC-TV sports anchor Rob Clark prior to opening-day cross country practice on Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont on Aug. 12, will be inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Oct. 12. The legendary coach already is a member of three Halls of Fame. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — Into another Hall of Fame goes Bob Bonk.

The legendary Fairmont Cardinals track & field and cross country mentor will be enshrined in the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Oct. 12.

Though Bonk was elected to the MSHSCA cross country Hall of Fame in 2003 and the MSHSCA track & field Hall of Fame in 2016, he said making it into the overall coaches Hall of Fame felt different.

“The fact that it’s all sports and there is a real diversity of sports typically in a normal year, it’s very meaningful,” said Bonk, who’s also a member of the Fairmont High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

The namesake of Fairmont High School’s track earned the honor by having coached in Minnesota since 1971 and in Fairmont since 1973. Bonk was one of the founding fathers of the State True Team event, which began in 1987. As one of the original mentors of the event, Bonk has won six True Team State championships and placed in the top three 17 times during 25 appearances.

Bonk said the beginning of the True Team event was a difficult point.

“I think most track coaches now would say it’s the thing they and the teams get most excited about now,” Bonk said. “When we started their were a lot of challenges, even financial challenges. I think the first year, probably less than half the schools bought into it and a lot of administrators and school officials didn’t want their teams competing in it because they thought it would take away from the high school meet. … Financially, we were day-to-day the first few years and T-shirt sales saved us, honestly. It was just hard to get that whole part of it going.

“Schedules in May were already full of invitationals and so for people to give up traditional invitationals to go to this new thing was a big hurdle. To be on the ground floor of that and see where it has emerged to where almost every school participates and even the schools that don’t have a chance to win participate because they know the kids get such a charge out of it. That’s been really fun to see the evolution of that.”

When Bonk enters his most recent Hall of Fame, he will become the third Fairmont coach enshrined. Baseball mentor and field namesake Herb Wolf joined the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1980, then legendary football coach and field namesake Tom Mahoney was inducted in 1991.

Bonk was already with Fairmont when both coaches were inducted, he said he’s seen many coaches deserving of major honors through his time with the school.

“I’ve been here for almost five decades, or four-and-a-half decades and I’ve observed so many good coaches in the system through the decades,” Bonk said. “It’s not surprising to me that we’ve had three honored and maybe in some ways even more should have been. Over the time, Fairmont has had many very good coaches in many different sports.

“I was coaching when Herb got his award in 1980 and when Tom got his in 1991 and I remember thinking, ‘Jeez, those guys are really old.’ And I think I’m older now than either one was at the time so that’s kind of strange to think about.”

Through his decades of coaching at Fairmont, Bonk has had regular success in both the spring and fall. Bonk mentored 11 individual state track & field champions and six state champion relay teams, while bringing Fairmont three cross country team state championships and one individual champion. Bonk said the credit for his successful career goes both to the athletes and his many assistant coaches.

“I guess first and foremost it’s the athletes who have been willing to come out to the two sports I’ve been a head coach of,” Bonk said. “They aren’t necessarily the glamor sports and especially, they aren’t the sports on the post-high school level that get much attention, like most of the ball sports do.

“It’s folks that come out, and they know from past athletes that a lot will be expected of them as far as effort and practice, but I think they also know that like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. I would say that’s the biggest thing, having people that know they will have to do that, but that there are a lot of life-long rewards that come from it.

“Secondly, I’ve felt very blessed to have so many strong coaches coaching with me. I don’t even really like referring to them as assistant coaches, but just fellow coaches. We have had great people coaching with me through this time. Especially in track where it’s impossible to coach all 18 events, I feel like I’ve given the coaches a lot of freedom to do what they think is best for their areas and they’ve taken that and taken ownership of their areas.”

With the help of many coaches, Bonk has been able to keep kids coming to sports he said don’t get the same publicity as other sports in the same seasons. He said part of what he likes most about track & field and cross country is that an individual can compete with themselves moreso than in other sports.

“That’s the thing about the sports I coach, the last-place kid on your team can give you as much of a thrill as anybody,” Bonk said. “They’re very statistical and you don’t have to compare yourself necessarily to someone else. You just have to see if you can get better. You’ve got to run your best time or throw your farthest distance, there’s a lot of self satisfaction in the sports I coach.”

Bonk will be enshrined alongside Stillwater’s girls swimming and diving coach Brian Luke; Luverne track & field coach Craig Nelson; South St. Paul girls hockey coach Dave Palmquist; Strand-quist/Karlstad (now Tri-County High School) boys basketball coach James Musburger; and Crosby-Ironton boys basketball coach Dave Galovich.

For tickets to the event, which will be held in the Sheraton Minneapolis West Hotel in Minnetonka, contact Sherwood Sagedahl at freethrows@hotmail.com.

Tickets will cost $35 per person and must be purchased by Sept. 12. The dinner and banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m., after a social hour beginning at 4:30 p.m.