Courtesy of Connie Strinmoen
Coach Gary with the commemorative basketball that says “Coach Gary Inspiring!”
Courtesy of Connie Strinmoen Coach Gary with the commemorative basketball that says “Coach Gary Inspiring!”

Coach Gary Strinmoen of Spring Grove got a surprise on Jan. 19. That’s the day the Spring Grove elementary basketball coach returned to the gymnasium to see his beloved Lions take on the boys from Rushford-Peterson.

Recent months have been tough for Strinmoen, who suffered the amputation of a foot due to complications from diabetes.

Before they tipped off, the entire boys varsity team circled their former mentor, presenting him with a commemorative basketball. “Coach Gary Inspiring!” was hand-lettered on it, and maybe that says it all!

“It was the first game, I’d been to since I had my surgery,” Strinmoen said. “I thought that the Rushford game would be a good one, and I felt pretty good, so I jumped in the car, and we went up there. I wheeled out in the wheelchair and watched the kids warm up.

“Then all of a sudden, the whole team came over to me, and I thought, ‘What in the world are they doing now?’ That’s when they presented me with the basketball. They had all signed it. It was very nice. The whole crowd was standing and clapping.”

The Lions also had another gift, winning the game 53-43.

“This would have been my 23rd year (coaching fifth and sixth-grade boys basketball),” Strinmoen said. “I’ve coached every kid from this year’s seventh-graders to my youngest son, and he’s 35 years old.”

All grade school coaches at Spring Grove Public Schools are volunteers.

“I gave it up this year, but I’m still on the staff (list) so I can come back again,” Strinmoen added. “I’m meeting with a prosthetic guy in about a week. He told me I’ll be on my feet before we know it.

“I was pretty worried about that, but one of my surgeons heard that I was a basketball coach. He said, ‘Gary, don’t worry, we’ll have you back on that court.’

“When he mentioned that, it kind of turned my attitude around. I started thinking positive, and that’s kind of where we’re at now.”

Strinmoen has not only coached the fifth and sixth-grade boys, he’s also been assisting his son (Chris), who works with the boys basketball program in addition to coaching the Lion baseball team.

“All three of us (including coach Al Lochner) have been working with the sixth, seventh and eighth-grade boys,” Strinmoen stated.

“I started coaching when Chad Angel asked me to,” he recalled. “He was a fifth-grade teacher, and he coached elementary basketball before he moved to coaching the higher grades. I’m glad I did it, because I just love coaching now. I just love being with the kids.”

While Strinmoen was still in the hospital, “One kid I used to coach (freshman guard Chandler Bergrud) hit his head against the wall and was knocked out. They brought him down to the emergency room.

“They checked him out; and when he got done there, he said, ‘I’ve got to go up and see coach,’” Strinmoen chuckled. “So he came up and visited me before he went home.”

Volunteerism is boundless

Gary and wife, Connie, are co-founding longtime members of the Spring Grove Athletic Boosters.

“They are considered institutions in the community for their service to the boys basketball program and the athletic department — tireless workers,” athletic booster Lee Epps reported.

In 2012, the couple was honored by the booster club for “18 years of organizing, countless hours of volunteering and endless dedication to the Spring Grove Athletic Boosters.”

The couple has also been honored by the Spring Grove Herald, being named Volunteer of the Year in 2007. They were cited for their work with the Athletic Booster Club, Band Boosters, 4-H, Pork Producers, Syttende Mai, Homecoming, Fall Foliage, church and church youth work, Community Education, Ye Olde Opera House and more for many years in leadership roles as well as the actual hard work.

Coaching philosophy

Coach Strinmoen said that his philosophy for starting young athletes on their way is simple: “We try and get them fundamentally sound, but after that, I try to teach them that it’s not just ‘We’ve got to go out and play basketball,’ it’s ‘Keep your grades up and be good sport.’

“This is a pretty good basketball town, and good sportsmanship is always our number one thing. That’s what we’ve been teaching these kids. If somebody gets knocked down, help ‘em up. Or tell another player, ‘You’re doing a good job out there.’ That’s kind of our philosophy. Our kids listen to that – respect that.

“So it’s not just fundamentals. We want to teach them to keep their grades up and grow up to be good adults, too. And it’s not about individuals; it’s teamwork out there.

“We want them to learn to work together, and do the best they can. We’re not looking for individuals that score 20 points or whatever. We just want everybody to be playing equally out there, and doing a good job.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve missed it this year, but the other coaches said, ‘We’re waiting for you to come back.’ That’s what I wanted to hear. I can’t wait to get back again!”