Coaches and players express feelings on attack

Brian Hall

On the evening of Sept. 5, 1972 in Munich, Germany, current Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson lay in his bed awaiting his first match as a wrestler in the Olympic Games.

Gunshots suddenly pierced the silence in the Olympic Village as eight Arab commandos entered the Village and killed a pair of Israeli Olympians and kidnapped nine others. By the next day, all 11 athletes were dead.

Now, just over 29 years since the attack, Robinson was once again jolted with the sounds of terrorism – this time by news reports from New York and Washington, D.C.

“This is a massive part of history,” Robinson said. “A sad part of history, but it is history nonetheless.”

Robinson, who also served in Vietnam, said the events Tuesday morning were unfathomable acts.

“It’s horrific that someone can target innocent people,” he said. “Whatever your political agenda is, it’s just overwhelming and incomprehensible at the same time that there are those kinds of people in the world.”

Robinson and the rest of the coaching staff are scheduled to be in New York City in two weeks for the World Wrestling Championships at Madison Square Garden, just one mile from where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. He said if the championships go on, the staff will attend with no worries.

When asked to compare Tuesday’s tragedy with the events in Munich, Robinson said the difference will be in the aftermath.

“The magnitude is going to be unbelievable,” he said. “(Munich) was eight or 10 Israelis. I mean, this is possibly tens of thousands of casualties. The reaction of the Palestinians – people cheering in the streets – I don’t think that will go over well.

“I think that is the reality that a lot of people have missed. (The Palestinians) are coming in with the perspective of, `This is what life is like where we live. Now, how do you like it?’ And I don’t think the American people will like it at all.”

Wickstrand devastated

As soon as soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand heard about Tuesday’s attacks, she reached for the phone.

Wickstrand, a native of Washington’s suburb of Fairfax, Va., worried for family members who might have been in danger when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.

“I have a brother-in-law who used to work there,” she said. “Thank goodness he doesn’t work there anymore. And my family basically worked for the government throughout my whole life… Fortunately, no one in my immediate family was affected by it.”

But that could not lessen the impact of the news.

“On a personal level, from my point of view, it’s just devastating,” Wickstrand said. “I just got off the phone with a couple of players and they’re glued to the TV as well. Everyone is in shock. It affects all of us in one way or another.

“(Assistant coach) Colete Gilligan had a friend that worked at the World Trade Center. Fortunately, she didn’t go to work today. I also had a friend that was working on a project at the World Trade Center with a team, but he was in Chicago today.

“His whole team was killed in it.”

Roethlisberger outraged

The gymnasium on Tuesday was eerily quiet, but inside himself, head gymnastics coach Fred Roethlisberger was screaming for vengeance.

The events in New York and Washington, D.C., left Roethlisberger – and many others – angry.

“I’m really upset,” he said. “I’m really mad. I want revenge.

“The United States needs to be more defensive. People that want to go along and get along with all kinds of people – I just want the United States to be stronger and protect our way of life.”

Hebert focuses

As other members of University athletics attempt to overcome Tuesday’s tragedy, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert and his team must also deal with being the first Gophers team returning to action.

Minnesota plays No. 24 Northern Iowa on Wednesday in Rochester, Minn.

“You can’t ignore something like this,” Hebert said. “We will try to get them as focused as we can to practice.”

Yet as practice goes on, Hebert understands the tragedy is history in the making.

“I don’t know if I have formulated my thoughts yet,” he said. “This is a nation that is unaccustomed to having things of this magnitude occur on its own soil. It is usually someplace else.

“I think it is going to be a watershed mark kind of event, a real defining moment for this country.”

During his tenure as head coach of the Gophers, Hebert has experienced adversity before.

Last March, the Minnesota volleyball program lost assistant coach Maurice Batie to cardiac arrest.

Dealing with the loss of Batie has helped prepare Hebert to act as a counselor to his players in addition to his coaching duties.

“Coaches do have to play several roles,” he said. “One of them could be trying to assist anyone having difficulties.”

Monson on perspective

Open recruiting season started last Sunday, and Gophers men’s basketball coach Dan Monson was still asleep in his hotel room in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. It was only 6 a.m.

Minutes later, his wife Darci called, asking him if he knew what was happening 3,000 miles away. In the process, she got scared.

Monson said he was supposed to fly to Virginia to meet with another prospect on Tuesday night. Darci thought her husband’s flight was to leave Tuesday morning.

In response to the events Tuesday, the FAA closed down all airports until 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Monson was stuck.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

“It’s funny,” he said, “through the delays and cancellations you normally get upset and worked up. But now you don’t concern yourself with those things. You worry about the fate of others.”

Monson’s fate is unclear. He was held up all of Tuesday in the Marriott hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport, “where I can look out my window and see the whole area roped off.”

He is supposed to return to the Twin Cities on Friday, but Monson put his name down on five or six flights today to Virginia and Minnesota, unsure of what will happen or where he’ll be.

“Suddenly, it’s not a huge concern,” he said. “What’s gone on is far bigger than any one recruit, and everything professionally is put on the back burner.”

Bernstein horrified

Like many Americans, Minnesota softball co-head coach Lisa Bernstein was in a state of shock upon hearing of Tuesday’s attacks.

“It is a horrible tragedy,” Bernstein said. “(I’m in) disbelief, honest to goodness.”

The Gophers coaching staff spent time with their players as they went on with a scheduled practice at 10 a.m., the same time many of the tragic occurrences were still going on in New York and Washington, D.C.

“It has taken a toll on the student-athletes, that’s for sure,” Bernstein said. “All of our student-athletes were given the option – if they thought they would be distracted, we could change practice.”

Yet, even though her players decided to practice, Bernstein knew their thoughts might not have been on the diamond.

“It wasn’t kicks and giggles,” she said. “It was very solemn and focused. It was calm and peaceful. Everyone was real low-key.

“It was all we could talk about.”

Plasencia asks for calm

Men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia wrapped up his team’s practice on the track at Bierman Field on a beautiful Tuesday morning.

He got in his car and drove off toward the Les Bolstad Golf and Cross Country Course to take some measurements.

As the news from New York and Washington, D.C., came over the airwaves, confusion and concern came over Plasencia.

“Obviously it was a tragedy,” Plasencia said. “But what was this? What was happening?

“I’m not sure I understand the magnitude of it. I’ve had one eye on the television and one on other business today.”

Plasencia met with his team Tuesday afternoon to take stock of his athletes’ emotional states. For himself, Plasencia’s message is prudence.

“Outside of someone of someone who’s been personally affected, I think you should try to carry on and behave in a normal manner,” he said.

“There’s no purpose served by everyone panicking.”

Lucia: Innocence lost

Tuesday morning was already going to be trying for men’s hockey coach Don Lucia – he had a dentist appointment.

Lucia watched “Good Morning America” before he left the house, but was confused about the images he saw from New York.

He thought there was simply a fire in one of the World Trade Center Towers.

Then he flipped on the car radio and finally comprehended the awful truth.

“My reaction was, ‘We’ve forever lost our innocence in America,'” Lucia said. “It’ll never be the same.

“I never thought something like this would happen, such a concerted effort.”

Halldorson reeling

Laura Halldorson turned into the parking lot of the Bierman Athletic Building and was greeted by one of her players – in tears and bearing grim news: All hell had broke loose in New York this morning.

With the cable still out in the newly refurbished Bierman Building, Halldorson went to Home Depot for an antenna, then watched the news all morning.

“It was like watching a movie,” Halldorson said. “It’s a bad dream. This is going to take a long time for everybody in the country to deal with.”

– Staff Reporter Adam Fink
contributed to this report.