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Gymnastics: Maras retiring at top of his profession

Dave Maras Age: 73 Central Lakes Conference team titles: 15 Section 8-2A team titles: 15 Section runner-up teams: 11 Seasons as head coach: 33 Final career dual meet record: 291-48 (.858) His classmate at Hibbing High School was a guy named Rober...

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Dave Maras

Age: 73

Central Lakes Conference team titles: 15

Section 8-2A team titles: 15

Section runner-up teams: 11

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Seasons as head coach: 33

Final career dual meet record: 291-48 (.858)

His classmate at Hibbing High School was a guy named Robert Allen Zimmerman, who went on to become legendary singer-songwriter, artist and writer Bob Dylan.

Former New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris was born in Hibbing. So was NBA Hall of Famer and Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale.

After 33 years as head coach of the Brainerd Warriors gymnastics team, Dave Maras is retiring as a man as distinguished in his sport as Dylan, Maris and McHale are or were in their respective professions.

Maras departs as one of the most successful and esteemed gymnastics coaches in Minnesota State High School League history. From 1982-83 through 2014-15, his Warrior teams won 15 Central Lakes Conference championships, 15 Section 8-2A titles and finished as high as fourth in the 2A state meet in 15 state trips.

In addition, Warrior athletes won 57 CLC individual titles and 40 individual section championships. He coached two individual state champions (Julie Beasley and Beth Etterman) and tutored another (Crystal Savage).

During an interview at his Baxter home, the 73-year-old Maras said it's time to relinquish his coaching post, a decision he contemplated for some time.

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"I'm not as young as I once was," he said. "I could see there had to be a time, that while I'm still fairly active and I can still do some coaching, to step aside and let somebody else run the program. We have a great program from top to bottom right now and I feel really good about that.
"The only thing I don't feel good about is I might not get to coach some of these kids coming up, but at the same time that's OK. I'll be watching, I'll be there, but it's time."

It's time for Dave to spend more time with his wife, Connie, their three children and their eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

"I need to be more available for my family because they've given up everything. They've given up their time to be with the family because of the sport," Maras said. "Now it's time to take care of somebody else's kids - like my own. That was a big part (of the decision) - my personal freedom to do some things I've always wanted to do (in the winter) and even in the summer. It frees me up for those things and I think I owe it to my wife to be around more."

As could be expected, Maras said it's difficult to summarize a career that has spanned 52 years in coaching and or education.

"How do you put it all in perspective?" he said. "Most of what I've learned is from my kids that competed. That's a point of emphasis for me because I watched them. I would ask them 'How does that feel? What do you think you need to do?' and we would try it.

"As coaches there's no one way to do anything. You have to learn to teach kids so that they understand. I liked to share my kids with other coaches because (other coaches) may see the same thing differently. Too often coaches think they're 'my kids.' They're not just your kids."

Maras' teams strung together some remarkable championship runs. Brainerd won eight straight CLC titles from 1984-91 and six straight from 2000-04. The Warriors added nine straight section championships from 1983-1991 and six more from 1999-2004. In addition, they were section runners-up 12 times.

His first section championship team was one of Maras' most gratifying experiences, but it also set the bar high for future expectations.

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"My first year in '83 when we won the section everyone was really excited for us," he said. "By about the eighth or ninth time it was 'You mean you only won by a couple (points)?' People began to expect it.

"In '92, when a couple of our kids went down with injuries, I realized 'Wait a minute. We're not going to win this thing' and I was somewhat relieved because the pressure wasn't there to win (the section), although I wanted to win it, but we didn't. In '93 we weren't expected to be conference champions, but we were.

"We came back from '99-04 and had another run. I still think success breeds success. We had some great young kids coming up in the late 90s and they made an immediate impact."

Warrior individual state champions included Julie Beasley on vault (her 9.9 in 1991 stood as the state record for 11 years.) Beth Etterman won the state vault title in 2014, her only season with the Warriors.

Crystal Savage won the state uneven bars title in 1982, the year before Maras became head coach, but he worked with Savage, who went on to be a 4-year letterwinner at Nebraska and earned All-America honors in 1989 after tying for second on bars (9.80) at the NCAA Championships.

"Crystal naturally ranks at the top of the list simply because since she was a second-grader she forced me to learn more," Maras said. "As she got better and wanted to learn things we tried to learn them together. All of a sudden, I thought, I've got to go out and learn some stuff.

"I went to camps with several different elite coaches. The first one was in Moorhead with some big-time college coaches. Then there was a camp I spent four days with Bela Karolyi (who coached Romanian and U.S. Olympic teams to medals).
"I was going all over trying to learn stuff because (Savage) kept wanting to do more and as she got to do more I started to know more so the level of instruction had taken a step forward. In doing that, the whole program from top to bottom started to get better.

"Part of teaching is learning, learning how to deal with different kids, learning how to handle different types of situations with different kids. Every kid is there because she wanted to be there. You just have to find a way to keep them motivated."

He started his Brainerd career coaching elementary and junior high girls before moving up to the varsity. Maras has watched the sport become more technical and the level of skill has risen to an almost unbelievable level.

"Getting a nine 30 years ago - that was huge," he said. "Now if you don't get 9s you're not competitive. The skill level has gotten so difficult. If you go to a state meet, and watch vault, if you don't have a Tsuk - there are 64 kids in two different classes and there's not a kid that doesn't do a minimum of that."

In retirement, Maras will be active. He loves working with wood in his basement shop, does some picture matting and framing, likes to deer hunt and play golf. He also loves to cook with his wife Connie.

"I like to try different things," he said. "Some of the things turn out pretty good I have to say. Some are kind of like I don't think I will do that again."

He said his program couldn't have accomplished what it did without the support of the community, School District 181 administrators and the four athletic directors for whom he worked. He departs with a sparkling winning percentage of .858. But victories and titles aren't what he will cherish the most.

"I have made some great friends from athletes to coaches," he said. "As I look back, it's not about the wins or losses, it's about all the people I got to know and the great young ladies that I have coached. I still follow what they're doing. I've got them all the way from doctors to lawyers to teachers and a nun.

"To have shared their growing up that's what this is all about. It's not about me."

MIKE BIALKA may be reached at mike.bialka@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .

Related Topics: BRAINERD WARRIORSGYMNASTICS
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