Plocker hangs up running shoes
BLUE EARTH — Add Tom Plocker’s name to the list of successful cross country and track & field mentors from the area who have retired from their coaching positions.
Long-time Wells-Easton/United South Central coach Kent Viesselman retired in 2018 and Fairmont’s Bob Bonk announced he was stepping down from coaching earlier this summer.
Ironically, Viesselman, Bonk and Plocker all are originally from Blue Earth.
“I don’t claim to be on the same level with those two. They are two of the best,” Plocker said. “They are great examples of excellence in coaching – passionate, but full of grace. They are good sportsmen and are my good friends. Those two gentlemen are tremendous ambassadors for both cross country and track & field.”
Though he may not consider himself to be at their level, Plocker is well-respected among his contemporaries.
He was selected as the Section 2A Cross Country Coach of the Year numerous times and was named the 2009 Minnesota State Cross Country Coach of the Year. He also was inducted into the Minnesota Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2020.
Plocker is quick to credit his high school and college coaches for his love of coaching and for the success he has achieved.
“Dave Johnson was my high school coach for track and cross country. He was an excellent role model and I looked up to him,” Plocker said. “Gary Agren was the assistant and another great person.”
Steve Whittaker was Plocker’s college coach.
“What I learned from Steve was the spiritual aspect of coaching,” Plocker said.
Plocker, a 1979 Blue Earth graduate, did not join the cross country team until his junior year.
“I was a football guy through my sophomore year, but then I came to my senses and joined the cross country team,” he chuckled. “The cross country team was more successful at that time. They had won the state championship in 1976, the year before I joined, and then we repeated in 1977 when I was a junior. We actually had a better team when I was a senior, but finished fourth at state. That team had two of the best cross country runners in Blue Earth history in Mike McGowan and Terry Hildebrandt.”
After graduating from Blue Earth, Plocker was off to Macalester College.
“Macalester was not a good fit for me. I started with a math minor and a speech communications major,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that so I came home and farmed with my dad for a bit before going back to college and getting a math degree from Bethel University.”
His first coaching job was at Wells-Easton where he was an assistant for one year before coming to Blue Earth in the fall of 1987 to coach girls track.
By 1988, he also was the cross country coach.
“Back then the girls and boys track teams were separated,” he said. “In 1996, they combined the track teams and I was the head coach.”
When explaining his coaching philosophy, Plocker mentions the three “E’s” – everyone excels and enjoys.
“Cross country and track are unique sports in that anybody can participate. A kid can join later in his high school years and still have success and fun,” he said. “As for excelling, while anyone can participate, we still want to be good, train hard and be better at the end of the year.”
He mentioned the enjoyment comes from creating a fun experience.
“We are not creating Olympians,” Plocker said. “But I want the kids to be able to look back and know they had fun.”
He talked again about the uniqueness of the sports.
“While we wanted to do well, we did not have to worry about seeding,” Plocker said. “We could experiment with putting kids in different events. We just wanted to be injury free by the end of the year. The nature of these sports also allows for more interaction with athletes from other teams. Again, everybody can participate and everybody pulls for each other.”
There are many teams and individuals who found success during Plocker’s years as the Bucs’ cross country and track & field coach.
Perhaps the most impressive feat was the girls track team qualifying for the State True Team Track Meet for 12 consecutive years.
“The girls won 11 consecutive Section True Team championships and then qualified as the wild card the 12th year,” Plocker says. “The boys were also Section True Team champs five times.”
The girls won State True Team championships in 2009, 2015 and 2016 and finished in second place three times.
“The kids really bought into the True Team concept,” Plocker said. “It was the one time, however, when not everybody was able to participate.”
Both the girls and boys cross country teams made many trips to state during Plocker’s tenure as coach. There also were many individual success stories in both sports.
“But seeing the kids who maybe were not state material find their niche, improve, make friends and have fun was also a very rewarding experience as a coach,” Plocker said.
He shared the decision to retire from coaching (he is still going to teach) was not an easy one.
“I had been thinking about it,” Plocker said. “It gets tougher to do everything as we get older.”
Plocker and his wife, Becky, have two sons.
The younger of the two boys, Steven, got married in May. His older brother, Daniel, is tying the knot later in August.
“A person can’t do things forever,” he said. “This will give others a chance to coach and have the fun.”
He is quick to credit and say ‘thank you’ to Becky.
“I was gone a lot,” Plocker said. “She stabilized the family.”
The now retired coach also had praise for many other people he worked with over the years.
“I am grateful for all of the assistant coaches who were great with the kids,” he said. “I have to give a special shout-out to the late Dick Maher and to Rob Norman, who in their capacity as athletic/activities directors, were always willing to help and were supporters of cross country and track.”
Plocker had one more group of people he wanted to acknowledge.
“Most important,” he concluded. “I am most appreciative of the kids who wore the maroon-and-gold for the Bucs and I hope they enjoyed their time on the cross country and track and field teams.”