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Top Cat steps down after 33-year coaching career

Wildcat boys' basketball captains Brad Freeborn, left, and Eric Wunrow presented head coach Greg Gaulke with a basketball signed by the team in honor of Gaulke's 400th career coaching victory last December. <i>Journal file photo</i>

Greg Gaulke is going out with a smile on his face.

After 33 years coaching basketball, including the last 25 as Wildcat boys' head coach, Gaulke announced his retirement last Friday, April 26.

"It's just the right time to do it," he said. "My goal was to go out on top and have pride in the program, and the program is solid. Too many coaches; they don't get to leave with smiles on their faces. This feels wonderful."

Gaulke, who will continue to teach 5th grade at Rocky Branch Elementary School, began his career as the freshman coach at Park Falls. He also coached junior varsity at Park Falls for three years before moving on to be head coach at Cumberland, where he led the Beavers to their first WIAA sectional appearance in 42 years.

Gaulke, 55, came to River Falls in 1988 and guided the Wildcats to ten WIAA regional titles, four Big Rivers Conference championships and three state tournament appearances while averaging 15 wins a season. He recorded his 400th career victory last December and leaves with a mark of 413-259 in his 33 year career while never missing a game.

"I enjoyed my 25 years in River Falls so much," he said. "What we accomplished; the championships, the state finals, along with all the students, families, friends always supporting the team, it's been wonderful."

Gaulke said he's simply looking forward to enjoying some of the things he couldn't do during 33 years of long basketball seasons.

"I want to enjoy time off, like Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said. "Maybe do some more hunting and fishing. I love the classroom and I still love the court, it's just a good time to go, in my mind. I'm healthy, I feel good, its' just time to move on."

Through all the conference and regional championships, state tournament appearances and big wins, Gaulke said what he's most proud of is his players.

"Something that we stressed is; when you put on that Wildcat uniform, you represent this town, and I think they did that," he said. "I like to use coaching as a teaching tool; use athletics to help a player become a better person in the classroom and in life. You hope you can help make them better people when they graduate. At the alumni game, when I saw all the players from past years; now they are fathers with wonderful families; that was good to see."

He said he will miss hanging out with his players.

"Basketball is one of the longest seasons, and you really get to know the players and the families and build relationships," he said. "I have so many wonderful memories; the championships, the games, the players, the families. There's really a lot of special memories. Even the little things, the laughter on the bus rides."

Gaulke said he's also grateful to the River Falls Youth Basketball Association for it support.

"The youth basketball association has always supported the high school game," he said. "When I came here 25 years ago my goal was to get numbers. If you get numbers, you'll make teams. And that's what happened."

He said he feels extremely lucky to be a teacher and a coach.

"I feel very blessed that I teach 5th grade, then I get to go work with high school teenagers. I feel like I had the best of both worlds," he said. "To be that lucky and have that happen is a wonderful thing."

While much has changed over the last 25 years, Gaulke said one constant has been the support of the school administration.

"I've had wonderful athletic directors, going all the way back to Ron Wunrow," he said. "The administration when I got here was Ron Wunrow, Grant Hanson and Tom Carroll; I thought I was in heaven! And Rollie Hall is doing a wonderful job. He's been supportive and with me all the way."

Gaulke said he will still go to basketball games, only now he will get to eat a box of popcorn in the stands.

"It will be different but I'll still go to games," he said. "They say when you coach, in your mind you are always a coach. Even when I watch games on TV I'm always thinking like a coach. I don't think that will ever go away."

Gaulke said he has no regrets about his decision to retire, but if he could change one thing it would be bringing a state championship back to River Falls.

"My only regret is that I didn't get to bring a gold or silver ball home for the town," he said. "I would have liked to have one of those in the showcase."

Gaulke said he will always be a Wildcat. "I'll always bleed blue and gold," he stated, and he sums up his time as Wildcat coach in very simple terms.

"Good kids, good people."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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