By Aaron Schultz
HOWARD LAKE-WAVERLY-WINSTED, MN In a day and age when it seems like the position of an athletic director at high schools in Minnesota is just a stepping stone to something bigger, that hasn’t been the case at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.
Just this past season, roughly 40 schools in Minnesota had a new athletic director leading its sports programs.
Meanwhile, at HLWW, Dale Decker is in his 20th season as the school’s athletic director, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
When asked if he would be doing his current job for 20 more years, Dale just smiled and said “no comment.” He did go on to say that the time has gone by very fast.
While just the sheer number of years at the position at one school is impressive, the way Dale goes about his business is even more impressive.
With that, his fellow athletic directors in Minnesota voted him the 2009-10 Minnesota Athletic Administrator of the Year for Class A schools.
“I love athletics, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Dale said. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”
This is truly a very special honor for any AD to receive, and Dale is more than deserving of this award.
“There is no finer athletic director. Dale and I have worked together for 14 years now, and I have always told people how lucky I am to have a man of his character to work with,” HLWW High School Principal Mike Day said. “Dale works cooperatively, yet decisively works with all the elements of the job. He is well-respected by our three communities and does his best to be fair and equitable to all the sporting activities at HLWW.”
“Dale has a wealth of knowledge and experience in implementing and sustaining very successful athletic programs for HLWW Schools,” HLWW Superintendent Brad Sellner said. “When I attend meetings with other area superintendents and administrators, I hear and see them looking to Dale for information, advice, and ideas because of his experience and success.”
There may be no better example of Dale being fair and equitable at his job than looking at what might be the most overlooked sport at HLWW, gymnastics.
With basketball getting the majority of the sports attention from the Laker faithful in the winter, and with wrestling also receiving plenty of attention, one might think that gymnastics would get overlooked.
That is not the case for Dale, who received some glowing reviews from the gymnastics head coach Sheila Asleson.
“I have worked with Dale for nine years. He has always been a positive and supportive athletic director for the gymnastics team,” Asleson said. “When I first started at HLWW, we needed equipment and he helped us get the equipment that we have today. He is a very hard worker and an awesome positive example of an administrator! I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him all these years.”
It all started for Dale at Howard Lake-Waverly High School, where he was a stand-out athlete in football, basketball, and baseball.
Following graduation, Dale went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota-Morris, with a degree in physical eduction, health, and coaching, in 1979.
Coming out of college, Dale spent a year teaching at HLW, before moving on to Maple Lake a year later to teach and coach football and boys basketball.
In 1986, Dale was hired at Rockford, and coached and taught there for four years.
Then, Dale received a call from Murl Kletscher, asking him if he’d be interested in becoming the athletic director at HLWW.
“I really didn’t have any thoughts about becoming an AD at the time, until I got that call from Murl,” Dale said. “Well, I got hired and the years have flown by.”
During his 20 years at HLWW, Dale has taught, coached, and has been the athletic director, dean of students, and the transportation director.
As the AD at HLWW, Dale has been active at the section and state level, while also being a MnIAAA region rep., a moderator numerous times at the AD state conference, and has served as a mentor for the AD mentorship program.
Dale is a member of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Representative Assembly, and has been a sub-section and section coordinator for a multitude of athletic events.
Through the years, Dale has received other honors including the HLWW Leadership in Educational Excellence Award in 2001, was selected as the Sub-section 20 AD of the Year in 1996-97, and was very instrumental in developing the Central Minnesota Conference Sportsmanship plan.
In the CMC and, before that, the Wright County Conference, Dale has been the president of each of those conferences, and is currently the treasurer of the CMC.
Dale and his wife, Vicki, have four children Brandi (25), Cody (23), Riley (19), and Brooke (15).
Success has followed Dale not only in his role as AD, but in his other athletic endeavours.
Dale is a member of the North Star Amateur Baseball League Hall of Fame, was named the North Star League coach of the year in 2008, as the manager of the Maple Lake Lakers, and has umpired MSHSL baseball and softball state tournaments for 12 years.
“I had the privilege of coaching a Legion baseball team from Monticello against the Maple Lake team and Dale was umpiring. I think I gave him a tough time about a few calls, but luckily for me he kept his cool and I was able to stay in the game!” Sellner said. “But seriously, Dale has immersed himself in athletics as an AD, coach, and official. He truly has a passion for it!”
These have been just a few of the many achievements Dale has reached over his many years involved in athletics since his days at Howard Lake-Waverly High School to today, and if we wanted to, a list much, much longer could be produced.
“Dale is a man who has devoted his life to sports, and believes in what the ideals of being an athlete are,” Day said. “Dale and I have always agreed on the idea that if students are active in sports, in all extra-curricular, the students will enjoy their time in high school, and success in school and life will follow.”
While those values haven’t changed, the job of an AD has, over the years.
According to Dale, when he first started, all the work was through phone calls and hand-written contracts.
Today, technology has transformed the AD job so that the majority of the scheduling, lining up officials, etc. is done over e-mail.
“Sad to say, but we (ADs) hardly talk any more,” Dale said. “Technology has made finding information and scheduling events much easier, but it is also a constant battle to keep up with the new technology.”
While keeping up with the new technology is a challenge, Dale cites the constant changes schools have at the AD position as being his biggest challenge.
“It is now rare when a school has an AD for a long number of years,” Dale said. “A lot of them are moving to principal jobs, other administrative positions, or bigger schools.”
Looking at the CMC for example, of the eight schools, many of them have relatively new ADs.
Decker, along with Maple Lake’s Dave Schroeder are the longest tenured ADs in the CMC, each have been there at least 20 years.
Jay Johnson at Eden Valley-Watkins is close behind with 18 years, but after that, many are fairly new to the AD job at their school.
Another challenge that Dale faces each year is making sure that there are facilities available for each and every sport.
“Sometimes, finding time in our facilities for our teams can be a challenge, but it comes with the territory,” Dale said. “While there are always challenges, and they are all different, the good always outweighs the bad.”
When asked what he would like to see change in high school athletics, Dale had one specific change on his mind.
“I’d like to see there be a break over the holidays for the kids and the coaches,” Dale said. “A one-week break over holiday break, where there would be no practices or events, would be good to see. Everyone, from the coaches to the kids, needs it, but the only way it will happen is if the MSHSL makes it a rule.”
According to Dale, the idea is being discussed at the state level, but he is unsure if something will get passed by the MSHSL.
“Dale is an excellent decision maker,” Sellner said. “Things don’t always go as planned on the athletic field, but he always shows good judgement and the ability to work with athletes, coaches, and parents in a positive way.”
Moving on, Dale was asked what he sees as the biggest difference today from 20 years ago in the student athletes.
“There are fewer three-sport athletes now-a-days, with many more specializing in one or two sports,” Dale said. “In a small school, it makes it tough when your athletes don’t participate in three sports as they used to. But it is understandable as the time commitments get greater for each athlete.”
Finally, over the 20 years Dale has overseen the athletic department for the Lakers, numerous teams and individuals have enjoyed a great deal of success.
Asked what has made the Lakers so successful over his time being the AD, Dale gave a pretty simple answer.
“If you hire good people you’ll have good results,” Dale said. “We’ve been successful because we’ve had good people, and plenty of support from the school board and a lot of community support.”
While success, no doubt, has a lot to do with everything Dale mentioned above, it is also a great reflection on Dale as an AD.
His peers in the AD community in Minnesota have recognized that, and because of that, he has been named the AD of the year in Class 1A.
The state AD conference will take place in St. Cloud in March after the state boys basketball tournament.
At that time, Dale will receive the most well-deserved honor from his peers.
It’s been a successful 20-year run for Dale, and here is looking to many more years leading the Laker athletic ship.
Views from Decker’s fellow CMC ADs
“I have been AD the past three years at Kimball, and have found Dale to be excellent to work with in our conference.
“Dale has been very active at the conference, section, and state level.
“He has helped me a number of times over the past three years with different situations that have come up as a new AD at Kimball.” Kimball AD Bruce Holmseth
“All I can say is, it is a most deserved honor. You don’t see many ADs with 20 years in the business anymore (practically a dinosaur), and he is an AD that is organized, efficient, hardworking, dedicated, and will do whatever is best for the kids.
“He is a great AD to work with, because of all the things I mentioned and because he is flexible and knowledgeable in all he does.
“This is my 24th year as an AD, and I worked with ADs from all over the spectrum, and Dale ranks right at the top with the best.
“HLWW does not know how lucky they are to have an AD of this caliber working for them and their kids.
“I could probably throw in a story or two, but a family newspaper is probably not the place for those.
“As good of a baseball player and manager that he is (was), he is every bit as good of an AD. That might simplify it the best.” Maple Lake AD Dave Schroeder.
“Dale Decker has been a great asset to the Central Minnesota Conference.
“Dale’s leadership and mentoring of new ADs in the conference has helped all of us who have come into the job and been fortunate enough to work with him.
“Congratulations to him on this award,” Rockford AD Michael Tauber.
“This is my second year as AD and Dale has always been willing to help me with my questions.
“He has always tried to accommodate me on schedule changes between HLWW and Pierz. Just a great individual.” Pierz AD David Rocheleau.
“I am a relatively new AD at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. I have known and dealt with Dale for a fairly brief time, but he has been extremely helpful to me when it has come to questions I have had about schedules or any number of items.
“I find Dale to be extremely up-to-date on Minnesota athletics and MSHSL-related items.
“He is very encouraging to young and beginning athletic directors especially, but veterans, as well.
“Although his priority lies with HLWW, I have always found him to be willing to help other schools out and be accommodating.” Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa AD Jerry Lindstrom.
“Dale always deals with issues with an open mind and has excellent input when trying to find ways to resolve problems.
“He is very highly thought of in the AD administration profession, and is always willing to help and do the extras to make activities for our athletes be a great experience.” Eden Valley-Watkins AD Jay Johnson.