Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson admits he’s usually not short of words.
But finding out about his induction into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame caused a sudden change in his usual loquacity.
After close to 30 years of going to Drake for the relays, Wilson will be enshrined in the Drake Relays Coaches Hall of Fame tonight in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Literally, when Mark called me, I was just dumbfounded,” Wilson said. “I didn’t tell anybody except my wife for like, two weeks, because I was afraid it was going to go away.”
The relays run from today through Saturday. Minnesota’s men’s and women’s teams will compete at the event.
Wilson said the respect he’s been treated with at the event makes his induction into the Hall of Fame at the Drake Relays all the more special.
“The officials are great, the meet director. And you’re treated like you’re going home,” he said. “You’re just treated in such a dignified, respected manner that people just feel comfortable. I just think that’s the essence of the whole thing.”
Mark Kostek, the Drake Relays director from 2000-04, said Wilson and his team always make sure to pay the respect back to the relays.
“Gary is the type of person that wherever he goes, he brings integrity and class to the event,” Kostek said. “His athletes are always respectful. They’re maybe the only team that will come up to the director after the event and tell them how much they appreciated it.”
A Drake Relays subcommittee that selects Hall of Fame inductees had placed Wilson’s name on the ballot for the last four years. Kostek said the performances of Wilson’s teams at the relays in the past were enough to make him stand out above the rest of the candidates on this year’s ballot.
Wilson started down the path to the Drake Relays Hall of Fame when he began his head coaching career in 1976 at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. By the time he left the Eagles for Minnesota in 1983, La Crosse had won three Division III women’s track and field national titles. Wilson also coached the men’s team for seven seasons.
Current La Crosse men’s track and field coach Mark Guthrie said Wilson’s success in Wisconsin contributed to his Hall of Fame portfolio.
“Gary’s impact here – while he was here, I think – raised the standard, changed the type of athlete that looks at La Crosse,” Guthrie said. “In other words, you might be looking at a higher caliber student-athlete.”
From his time in Wisconsin through his Minnesota coaching tenure, Wilson was able to engage in a relationship of mutual respect with former Drake coach Gary Osborn that was reflective of the relationship he has with the relays.
Osborn, who died in 2000 at age 56, was close friends with Wilson. At the relays in 2001, Wilson gave a chair to Drake Stadium in memory of Osborn.
Wilson said his relationship with Osborn will make his induction more meaningful.
“I know that Oz, up in heaven, is looking down, and I know he had something to do with this,” Wilson said. “So that’s the biggest memory I have of the times going down there and giving him grief, and just the way I was treated by him as a brother, almost.”
Lynne Anderson, Wilson’s throwing coach at Minnesota, said the coach is in rare form at Drake.
Anderson said Wilson makes sure he keeps an eye on all facets of his team at the relays.
“He walks around to all the events, all the way over to the hammer, javelin, discus, which is three and four blocks away,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of weather it is, he’s there, finding out what’s going on.”
And no matter what else he does at Drake, Wilson’s legacy is hardwired into the event forever.
“There’s so many great coaches that have come before me,” Wilson said. “And I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of coaches in the world more deserving than me.
“But I’m never giving up that plaque.”