TERRE BLEUE — Add Tom Plocker’s name to the list of area cross-country and track and field mentors who have retired.
Longtime Wells-Easton/United South Central coach Kent Viesselman retired in 2018 and Fairmont’s Bob Bonk announced he was stepping down as coach earlier this summer.
Ironically, Viesselman, Bonk, and Plocker are all from Blue Earth.
“I don’t pretend to be on the same level as those two. They are two of the best,” Plocker said. “They are great examples of excellence in coaching – passionate, but full of grace. They are good sportsmen and they are my good friends. These two gentlemen are great ambassadors for cross-country and athletics.
Although he may not consider himself on their level, Plocker is highly respected among his contemporaries.
He was repeatedly selected as Section 2A Cross Country Coach of the Year and was named the 2009 Minnesota State Cross Country Coach of the Year. He was also inducted into the Minnesota Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2020.
Plocker is quick to thank his high school and college coaches for his love of coaching and the success he achieved.
“Dave Johnson was my high school track and cross country coach. He was an excellent model and I admired him. Plocker said. “Gary Agren was the assistant and another great person.”
Steve Whittaker was Plocker’s college coach.
“What I learned from Steve was the spiritual aspect of coaching,” Plocker said.
Plocker, a 1979 Blue Earth graduate, didn’t join the cross-country team until his freshman year.
“I was a football guy in my sophomore year, but then I came to my senses and joined the cross-country team,” he laughs. “The cross-country team was more successful at that time. They had won the state championship in 1976, the year before I arrived, and then we repeated in 1977 when I was a junior. We actually had a better team when I was a senior, but I finished fourth in state. This team had two of the best cross country racers in Blue Earth history in Mike McGowan and Terry Hildebrandt.
After graduating from Blue Earth, Plocker left for Macalester College.
“Macalester did not suit me. I started with a minor in math and a major in voice communication,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, so I came home and worked with my dad for a bit before going back to college and getting a math degree from Bethel University.”
His first coaching job was at Wells-Easton where he was an assistant for a year before coming to Blue Earth in the fall of 1987 to coach the girls.
In 1988 he was also the cross-country coach.
“At the time, the girls’ and boys’ athletics teams were separated,” he said. “In 1996 they combined the track teams and I was the head coach.”
When explaining his training philosophy, Plocker mentions the three “E” – everyone excels and has fun.
“Cross country and track are unique sports in that anyone can participate. A child can join later in their high school years and still have success and fun,” he said. “When it comes to excellence, although anyone can participate, we still want to be good, train hard and be better at the end of the year.”
He mentioned that fun comes from creating a fun experience.
“We don’t create Olympians” Plocker said. “But I want kids to be able to look back and know they had fun.”
He spoke again about the uniqueness of the sport.
“While we meant to do well, we didn’t have to worry about seeding,” Plocker said. “We could experiment by putting the kids in different events. We just wanted to be injury free by the end of the year. The nature of these sports also allows for greater interaction with athletes from other teams. Again, anyone can participate and everyone shoots for each other.
Many teams and individuals found success during Plocker’s years as the Bucs’ cross country and track and field coach.
Perhaps the most impressive feat was the women’s track and field team qualifying for the State True Team Track Meet for 12 consecutive years.
“The girls won 11 consecutive True Team Section Championships and then qualified as wildcards in Year 12,” Plocker said. “The boys were also five-time Section True Team champions.”
The girls won the State True Team Championships in 2009, 2015 and 2016 and finished in second place three times.
“The kids really bought into the True Team concept,” Plocker said. “That was the only time, however, where not everyone was able to participate.”
The girls’ and boys’ cross country teams made extensive trips around the state during Plocker’s tenure as coach. There have also been many individual success stories in both sports.
“But seeing the kids who may not have been state material find their niche, improve, make friends and have fun has also been a very rewarding experience as a coach,” Plocker said.
He shared that the decision to retire from coaching (he will still teach) was not easy.
“I had thought about it” Plocker said. “It gets harder to do everything as we get older.”
Plocker and his wife, Becky, have two sons.
The younger of the two boys, Steven, married in May. Her older brother, Daniel, will marry later in August.
“A person cannot do things forever” he said. “It will give others a chance to train and have fun.”
He’s not shy about crediting and saying “thank you” to Becky.
“I was gone a lot” Plocker said. “She stabilized the family.”
The now-retired coach has also spoken highly of many other people he has worked with over the years.
“I’m grateful to all the assistant coaches who have been great with the kids,” he said. “I have to give special thanks to the late Dick Maher and Rob Norman, who as Athletic/Activity Directors were always willing to help and were big believers in cross country and track.”
Plocker had another group of people he wanted to recognize.
“The most important,” he concluded. “I really appreciate the kids who wore maroon and gold for the Bucs and hope they enjoyed their time on the cross country and track teams.”