Commentary: Sports Santa: Ho-ho-ho — Once again

Mike Bialka

Last year, as I was writing what I thought was my final Sports Santa column for the Brainerd Dispatch, the headline read “Ho-ho-ho, 1 more time” since I was retiring as sports editor Jan. 1, 2019.

But that was before current Dispatch sports editor Jeremy Millsop reached out to me wondering if I would consider writing another Sports Santa about retirement so I guess this is “Ho-ho-ho — Once Again.

Several years before I decided to pull the pin on a 41-year year career in sports journalism, I was often asked: “When are you going to retire?” My reply often was, “Do I look that bad” Or “Do I look that old?” I probably did.

Fast-forward to December 2019 and the question I’m now constantly getting is “How do you like retirement?” Am I supposed to say it stinks?

It doesn’t.


Some people I know say they tried retirement, flunked and scurried back to work. In my case, retirement has been better than expected. But I will concede it has been a major adjustment/transition from the 24/7/365 world of sports to having tons of free time. And I think I’ve found a way to excel at it.

To me, the key is remaining active. So my wife and I start each weekday, and sometimes weekends, with a workout. We do Group Fitness at the YMCA three times a week, led by enthusiastic instructors like Julie Anderholm and Katie Deblock, and walk about 3 miles the other days.

I have appreciated the opportunity to write an occasional story for the Dispatch. This fall I wrote about Mike Mahlen of Verndale becoming the first coach in Minnesota State High School League football history to win 400 games. I wrote about the passing of legendary Staples-Motley wrestling coach Don Dravis and long-time KVBR/KLIZ sports broadcaster Keith Moilanen.

So the next time Jeremy called I answered by saying, “Did somebody else die?”

I was also elected (by a landslide) to be secretary of the White Sand Lake Association, an extremely rigorous position that requires attending and taking notes at meetings every 3-4 months. I took notes for 40-plus years so I guess I should be pretty good at it.

In November, I worked two state tournament football games at Adamson Field in Brainerd, shuttling team’s equipment from the locker room to their sideline and back and operating the 40-second play clock.

This month I ran the scoreboard/clock for a wrestling quadrangular and for the 2-day Paul Bunyan Invitational at Brainerd High School. From operating the play clock for football games and the scoreboard/clock for wrestling I have gained a high level of appreciation and respect for anyone who operates those devices at events. Both tasks require intense concentration and you must be laser-focused. Fans, athletes and coaches demand and deserve your best effort.

One time years ago I penned a column entitled, “Why would anyone want to coach?” Parental pressure and the fact there’s hardly any offseason in any sport anymore were the main reasons I wondered why anyone would want to coach.


So what did I do last spring? Brainerd baseball coach Trent Grams hired me to be an assistant coach of the Warriors freshmen baseball team. The freshmen head coach was Derek Owen, in my estimation an up and coming young coach and one of the funniest human beings on the planet.

Our top team went 7-4 with three of those losses by one run. Hopefully, the players learned something and we prepared them to move up through the ranks of the Warrior baseball program. And I think Derek and I had a great time together. Coaching isn’t all candies and nuts but now I know why people coach.

Being a sports writer requires you to pass on attending countless social activities due to work conflicts. I often used the Marv Albert line that “I would love to but I’ve got a game.” Now I go to games when I want and I do more socializing but my wife says I’ve got a long way to go before I master that skill.

I do miss my peeps in the newsroom and many others at the Dispatch. When you work at a place for more than 40 years how could you not? You might spend more time with co-workers than with family.

I also miss being in the middle of the sports action in the lakes area. I used to know what was going to be in the paper before it went to print or to the internet. Now I learn what’s going on when I go online or read my print edition.

So why did I step aside? I still loved my job but hopefully, I beat Dispatch management to the day when they would ask for my key, escort me to my vehicle and tell me never to come back.

I loved the newspaper business. Still do. That’s why it troubles me to see how the industry has struggled for decades. When I hear someone say “I don’t subscribe to a newspaper because I’ve got the internet” it’s like someone saying “I don’t need farmers because I go to the grocery store.” Newspapers supply the internet with information. Newspapers keep a community vibrant and informed. Our Founding Fathers thought a free press was so important they included it in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Is this my last Sports Santa? Who knows? Regardless, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my former readers and to all my Tweeters.


Follow Mike Bialka on Twitter at

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