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Athletics: ‘Coach cared about us:’ Jerry Riewer leaves a legacy in Staples

Jerry Riewer passed away Nov. 16 at the age of 85. He coached four different sports at Staples High School from 1964-1993.

Jerry Riewer
Jerry Riewer speaks at the Staples-Motley hall of fame.
submitted photo
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For 60 different sports seasons, Jerry Riewer coached one of four sports for Deer Creek and Staples.

The hall famer passed away Nov. 16 at age 85.

After a basketball and baseball career at Bemidji State University, Riewer coached baseball, cross-country, girls softball and junior varsity basketball for Deer Creek and most notably Staples from 1963-1993.

“I would define Jerry as a coach's coach,” longtime golf coach and former Staples activities director Glen Hasselberg said. “He was there for the kids. There for the programs. And there for the school.”

Hasselberg graduated from Staples in 1967 just as Riewer was getting his start as an educator.

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Hasselberg took over as the Staples activities director in 1990 a few years before Riewer retired.

“I never ever heard anyone say anything bad about him to my knowledge,” Hasselberg said. “I was activities director when he was cross-country coach and baseball coach and I can’t say I ever had a kid come to me and say something is wrong here.”

Riewer led the Cardinals to 18 state tournament appearances in cross-country and two state titles in 1982 and 1983. Riewer coached two state individual cross-country runners in Randy Reichel in 1983 and Collin Beachy in 1988.

“They just don’t make men like him anymore,” Beachy said of Riewer. “If there was one word that could describe the man it would be integrity. He had a way of making you a better person. He was always able to bring the best out of you and was very genuine. I honestly don’t remember him ever saying a bad word about another coach or athlete ever. I think he set a good example and showed us how to represent Staples as athletes. He was more than just a coach to me.”

Beachy was choked up on the impact Riewer had on him.

“There is just something about small towns, where it’s truly like a village,” Beachy said. “He always told us that there was something special about being a cross-country runner.”

When Beachy was a senior, Riewer shared a story at the end-of-the-year banquet about how Beachy helped a runner off the ground after he tripped during a race.

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“He said ‘that’s who Collin Beachy is’ and I wanted to say ‘well I learned it from Jerry Riewer,” Beachy said. “He always treated people with dignity and respect. I’m going to miss him.”

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Beachy remembers watching the tape of Randy Reichel winning the state championship in cross-country with Riewer five years prior to him winning the state title.

“After Randy crossed the finish line, I turned to Riewer and said ‘I’m going to do that someday,’” Beachy said.

Riewer coached the Staples baseball team to a state championship in 1983 and a second-place finish at state in 1977.

“We had a great run as a school, community and activities in which we had long-standing coaches,” Hasselberg said. “In other words, Jerry was a long-time cross-country coach and even longer time baseball coach and we had programs where we had numerous coaches with longevity that was equal to none. His excellence came from his longevity and his desire to succeed.”

He coached two professional baseball players in Warren Mertens and Kevin Johnson. He also coached longtime Minnesota Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer, who is a Staples graduate.

“He always kidded me he had more to work with as my Driver's Ed instructor than as my coach,” Bremer said in a tweet remembering his coach.

Riewer has been inducted into six different halls of fame. He’s a part of the Minnesota Cross-Country Coaches Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Bemidji State University Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and most recently the Staples-Motley Hall of Fame in 2019.

Along with all the halls of fame, Riewer was the Minnesota State Cross-Country coach of the Year in 1977, 1982 and 1983. He was also the Minnesota State Baseball Coach of the Year in 1984 and was nominated as the National Baseball Coach of the Year that same year.

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“I always felt like he treated his athletes like his own which led to his success,” John Riewer said of his father. “He was disciplined, organized and had a belief in his players.”

Along with John, Riewer had two daughters Jackie and Mary.

John Riewer was a 1982 Staples graduate and played for his dad from T-ball through high school.

“He always had the ability to see something in you that you didn’t see in yourself,” John Riewer said. “He was always there for us in good times and bad. He never stopped believing in you.”

John Riewer followed in his dad’s footsteps becoming an educator and coach himself. What John Riewer remembers fondly about his dad was how after he retired he never missed a game he coached.

“He was probably the most influential person in my life,” John Riewer said. “I wanted to be like my dad, so I became a teacher and a coach. My sisters both became educators. I know I developed a lot of my philosophy from his philosophy. I just expanded it as all coaches do, but the foundations of my belief system were with him.

“When he was retired and I was still coaching in Pine River he never missed a ball game. That just goes to show you the type of father he was and the love for his kids he had. If I was coaching a game he was watching and the same goes for the grandkids. He tried to attend as much as he could.”

John Riewer said his dad was always involved.

“When he wasn’t involved with his kids he was involved with the kids at Staples,” John Riewer said. “I always joke around that he could’ve run for the mayor of Staples because he had the ability to relate to everyone and somehow, someway he touched the lives of people back in his hometown.”

Jerry Riewer
Jerry Riewer celebrates the 1982 state championship in cross-country.
submitted photo

Riewer’s 1983 baseball team was inducted into the Staples-Motley Hall of Fame last October. Dave Hagenson was a starting pitcher on the 1983 baseball team, which won the state title. He said Riewer was an excellent teacher of the fundamentals.

“That group on that team from age eight on up he was our coach and it was drilled into us to learn the fundamentals,” Hagenson said. “He always seemed to pick out the other team’s weaknesses and exploit those.”

Hagenson said what made the 1983 team special was all the games they played together growing up.

“It was the same group and everyone got along great,” Hagenson said.

John Riewer was a graduate of Staples in 1982, so he just missed being a state champion for the Cardinals.

“My dad always joked that once you get the riff-raff out you can win state titles,” John Riewer said with a laugh.

Hagenson remembers Riewer for always having everyone’s best interest.

“He was the greatest guy,” Hagenson said. “We got to spend a lot of time with Jerry all summer long playing ball. We played little league for him and he wanted things done right. He’s the reason the state tournament run even happens.”

Hagenson also can’t forget about the van rides in the “Riewer Van.”

“We put in a lot of miles singing country western music,” Hagenson said. “We were laughing and having a good time, win or lose.”

In 2013, the Staples-Motley high school baseball field was named “Jerry Riewer Field” in his honor.

“It’s a tough one because he was a highly successful two-sport champion,” Hasselberg said. “He had successful programs in both cross-country and baseball. You don’t get very many of those right now. There are not too many dual head-coach programs right now.”

John Riewer was looking through notes written by players that played for his dad. One note stood out to him.

“‘Coach Riewer cared about us,’” John Riewer said, reciting the comment. “That’s the biggest thing I think.”

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.

Started at the Dispatch in June of 2019.
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