Plocker hangs running shoes | News, Sports, Jobs
BLUE EARTH – Add the name of Tom Plocker to the list of successful cross country and track and field mentors from the area who have retired from their coaching positions.
Longtime Wells-Easton/United South Central coach Kent Viesselman retired in 2018, and Fairmont’s Bob Bonk announced he would step down from coaching earlier this summer.
Ironically, Viesselman, Bonk, and Plocker are all originally from Blue Earth.
“I’m not claiming to be on par with these two. You are two of the best” said Placker. “They are great examples of excellent coaching – passionate but full of grace. They are good athletes and my good friends. These two gentlemen are great ambassadors for cross country and athletics.”
Even if he doesn’t see himself at their level, Plöcker enjoys a high reputation among his contemporaries.
He has been voted Multiple Section 2A Cross Country Coach of the Year and was named Minnesota State Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2009. He was also inducted into the Minnesota Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2020.
Plöcker is quick to credit his high school and college coaches for his love of coaching and the success he has achieved.
“Dave Johnson was my high school track and cross country coach. He was an excellent role model and I looked up to him.” said Placker. “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,” said Placker.
Plöcker, a 1979 Blue Earth graduate, did not join the cross country team until his junior year.
“I was a football guy my sophomore year, but then I came to my senses and joined the cross-country team.” he chuckled. “Back then, the cross-country team was more successful. They had won the state championship in 1976, a year before I joined, and we repeated in 1977 when I was a junior. When I was senior we actually had a better team but finished fourth at the state level. This team had two of the best cross country runners in Blue Earth history in Mike McGowan and Terry Hildebrandt.”
After graduating from Blue Earth, Plocker went to Macalester College.
“Macalester wasn’t a good fit for me. I started out with a math minor and a language communications major,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I came home and farmed 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 spent a year as an assistant before joining Blue Earth in the fall of 1987 to coach girls in track and field.
He was also the cross country coach until 1988.
“Back then, the track and field teams were separate for girls and boys,” he said. “In 1996 they merged the track teams and I was the head coach.”
When explaining his coaching philosophy, Plocker mentions the three “It” – everyone excels and enjoys.
“Cross-country and track are unique sports that anyone can participate in. A kid can come on later in their high school years and still thrive and have fun.” he said. “As for standing out, although anyone can participate, we still want to be good, train hard and be better at the end of the year.”
He mentioned that enjoyment comes from creating a fun experience.
“We can’t make Olympians” said Placker. “But I want the kids to be able to look back and know they had fun.”
He spoke again about the uniqueness of the sport.
“Although we wanted to do well, we didn’t have to worry about sowing,” said Placker. “We could experiment with bringing children to different events. We just wanted to be injury-free by the end of the year. The nature of these sports also allows for more interaction with athletes from other teams. Here, too, everyone can take part and everyone pulls for each other.”
There are many teams and individuals who found success during Plocker’s years as the Bucs’ cross country and track coach.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement was the girls’ track team qualifying for the State True Team Track Meet for 12 consecutive years.
“The girls won 11 consecutive Section True Team Championships, then qualified as a wild card in Year 12,” says Plocker. “The boys have also been Section True Team Champions five times.”
The girls won the State True Team Championships in 2009, 2015 and 2016 and finished second three times.
“The kids really embraced the True Team concept,” said Placker. “But that was the one time when not everyone could participate.”
Both the girls’ and boys’ cross-country teams made many trips to the state during Plocker’s tenure as coach. There have also been many individual success stories in both sports.
“But seeing the kids, who might not have been state material, find their niche, improve, make friends and have fun has also been a very rewarding experience as a coach.” said Placker.
He shared that the decision to retire from coaching (he will still be teaching) was not an easy one.
“I had thought about it” said Placker. “The older we get, the more difficult it becomes to do everything.”
Plocker and his wife Becky have two sons.
The younger of the two boys, Steven, got married in May. His older brother Daniel later ties the knot in August.
“A man cannot do things forever” he said. “This gives others the opportunity to coach and have fun.”
He quickly texts Becky his appreciation and says “thank you” to her.
“I’ve been away a lot” said Placker. “She stabilized the family.”
The now-retired coach also praised many other people he had worked with over the years.
“I’m grateful for all the assistant coaches who were great with the children,” he said. “I have to give special credit to the late Dick Maher and Rob Norman who, in their capacity as sports/activities directors, have always been willing to help and support cross country and athletics.”
Plocker had another group of people he wanted to acknowledge.
“Most importantly,” he concluded. “I’m very grateful to the kids who wore the maroon and gold for the Bucs and I hope they enjoyed their time on the cross country and track teams.”