Wednesday, August 10, 2011

RIP, Mr. Landgraf

In the mid-80s, I was just another mouthy junior high school student with unfortunate hair. I was also completely obsessed with sports--watching, playing, reading about, writing about--you name it, I could not get enough baseball, basketball or football. As you can imagine, nothing was more disappointing to me at that time than having to take gym class with the other girls in my class, who wanted to do jazzercise and braid each other's hair. (This was back when gym class was the major source of sports for a kid in rural Wisconsin.)  So I complained that it wasn't fair that I didn't get to play flag football; I whined that I didn't get to play basketball or floor hockey or soccer.

And for once someone listened to me.

That someone was the boys' gym teacher, Mr. Landgraf. He said that I could take phy ed with the boys but I had to understand that he was not going to take it easy on me and that he would not change his grading system to accomodate me. And he didn't, even when I had a heck of time long snapping a football with my little hands. And he made me get up and keep playing when Nathan Hilger missed the soccer ball and kicked me in the shin during a game.

David Landgraf was a stud. He was one of the best athletes you'll ever see. And no one outworked him. He was one of the founders of the Birkebeiner and had finished every Birkebeiner race since it started in 1973. He was the track and field coach at Bloomer High School for many years and he inspired an untold number of runners to push themselves to new levels. He was so fit, his runners used to call him Bruce after Bruce Jenner (this was long before the whole Kardashian clan nonsense).

Mr. Landgraf was killed this past weekend when he was hit by a car while biking south of Hayward. He was 61 years old.

I cannot count all of the lives that Mr. Landgraf touched in his many years as a teacher and coach, nor can I say with any certainty why he let me be a part of his phy ed class. I guess he just recognized that I loved competing as much as he did. Rest in peace, Mr. Landgraf.

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