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Pirates' Mondale calls it quits

PHOENIX — Harry Mondale, who launched the Phoenix High wrestling program in 1969 and turned it into a state power, resigned Wednesday.

"I think I've had enough," Mondale, 75, said. "It takes a lot of energy to coach and it's kind of hard on these old bones."

Known for a stern temperament and a loud voice that could pierce a gym wall, Mondale shouted, cheered and cajoled his Pirates to 21 Skyline Conference district championships, seven state titles and seven state runner-up showings during his 39 seasons in the coaching saddle.

Mondale, who played in the 1958 Rose Bowl for the University of Oregon, also served as Phoenix's head football coach from 1986-91. He was a line coach at the school for 17 years prior to that.

"It's not going to be easy replacing a legend like Harry Mondale, but he left the program in good shape," said Phoenix Athletic Director Brent Barry, noting that the Pirates placed fifth at the Class 4A state tournament in February. "This will be a good chance for someone to come in and continue our great tradition."

Barry said the school district has posted the job opening and hopes to have a new coach hired by the time school lets out in June.

Mondale had a knack for turning average wrestlers into good ones and good wrestlers into state champions.

"His kids always wrestled their best at the end of the season, when it really counted," Barry said. "He did that year after year."

Mondale also kick-started and led a community effort to build a privately-funded, state-of-the-art practice facility at Phoenix High. Dozens of community members, including several of Mondale's former wrestlers, donated thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to the 4,000 square foot "wrestling room," which was completed in 1997.

"We had carpenters, brick layers, cement workers, plumbers, electricians — you name it," Mondale said. "In actual cash, we raised less than $20,000, but it was assessed at $160,000 and would cost at least $200,000 now."

A star football player in high school and college, Mondale knew virtually nothing about wrestling when he enrolled at Oregon in the mid-1950s. But Mondale's line coach was Willard Hammer, who was also the Ducks' wrestling coach.

"He (Hammer) was my inspiration as far as wrestling was concerned," Mondale said. "He passed down all his notes to me."

Mondale spent considerable time watching and learning the sport, but his greatest gift as a coach was probably his ability to motivate.

"There was a lot of teaching and drilling, but mostly, it was getting the kids to buy into the work that we demanded and then convincing them they could beat anyone," said Mondale, who had as many as 70 wrestlers in uniform in the 1970s.

Mondale suffered from health problems in recent years that caused him to miss two state tournaments. He underwent surgery to remove an aneurysm in his heart in 2002, had stints placed in his heart to open clogged arteries the following year and developed a leg infection in 2006.

But the Minnesota native kept coming back.

"That aneurysm was supposed to be my 10-count," Mondale said, "but the doctors got me off the deck."

Mondale, a licensed fishing guide, plans to spend even more time on the Rogue River now that his clipboard and whistle are in the closet.

But he'll never forget his days in the wrestling room and the warriors who occupied it.

"Hardly a day or a week goes by that a former wrestler doesn't knock on my door that I haven't seen in 10, 20 and even 30 years," Mondale said. "They'll give me a big hug and we'll have a nice visit. Those are the things that make coaching so worthwhile."

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com

Phoenix wrestling coach Harry Mondale has resigned. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven