I’ve reminisced with several people the last couple of days about the late Tim Wesselowski -- the former McPherson High teacher and coach who passed away on Saturday -- and a common theme popped up during most of the conversations.
Wesselowski was as unique and refreshing of a coach as any I have ever worked with in my 45 years. In addition to football, he coached track and field and was known for making his History and Civics classes enjoyable. His style may have been somewhat unusual to some, but for the kids he was the perfect teacher with his combination of making kids work hard, but having fun at the same time.
As a coach, he was able to get the most out of his teams.
“The kids loved playing for Tim,” said Carol Swenson, who arrived in McPherson as a teacher the same time as Wesselowski in 1970. “He made practice fun and brought enough ‘stuff,’ what many might have thought was unorthodox, to his practices and play calling that his kids looked forward to, not knowing what he might come up with next.”
Wesselowski started out coaching the eighth grade at McPherson Junior High, then moved up to the ninth grade in 1977. He carved out a legendary record at MJH, including a winning streak that extended over several seasons, ably assisted by Phil Lane. They were quite the tandem as they were both characters and idolized by those who played for them.
He seemed comfortable coaching at that level, but in 1984 the high school job opened up and he agreed to take over. While the Bullpups were just 2-7 in his first year, his final four years – all of them winning seasons -- produced a 24-15 record for a final mark of 26-22.
In the final game of 1986, the Bullpups routed then arch-rival Newton 33-8 as sophomore running back Dwayne Chandler went off with a huge game, which was a forerunner to what would be two special seasons. Chandler was an angular, sleek runner with long strides, one reason he would eventually be a state champion in the 400 meters and later started for the Kansas Jayhawks as a tight end as he was one of the best in the Big 8.
In 1987, the Bullpups -- for only the second time in their history -- qualified for the Class 5A playoffs. They won their first-ever playoff game when they made the long trip to Liberal, winning 21-7, before losing at home 34-7 in the semifinals the following week to then-Kansas power Kapaun.
By now, the Bullpups were running the “Wessobone” offense that featured a punishing ground game led by Chandler and Troy Babcock, with the cerebral Tim Hein at quarterback. Because the team was so junior-dominated in ’87, expectations were off the charts for 1988 as the seniors made up a special class.
MHS would go 7-2 in the regular season, losing to just Campus and Arkansas City. The big game, however, was in the district against Salina South when Wesselowski’s son, Nathan, kicked the game-winning field goal in a 12-10 victory – his fourth of the game.
“In the Salina South game in 1988 when I was lining up for what would be the game-winning field goal, Salina South called a timeout to try and ice me,” he recalled. “I didn’t go to the huddle, I just stood in silence looking at the goal posts. Dad walked past me as he went to the huddle. As he walked past me, he said, ‘No sweat son.’ That was the only thing I heard in that frozen moment until the ball went through the uprights.”
The very next game, Chandler would rush for a school-record 408 yards in the greatest individual performance I’ve ever covered. And the Bullpups needed it all as they outlasted Great Bend 35-21 to again make the playoffs, only to lose a 14-12 game to Goddard, which we didn’t know at the time would be his last game.
I always laughed when he would greet me for our postgame interview. He started every time by saying, “Uh oh, it’s the press. I better watch what I say.” Then he would laugh and it was that way win or lose. He never allowed himself to get too high after a win or too low after a loss, though I do remember talking with him years later that the Goddard game always stung because he truly believed the Bullpups were the better team.
He stepped away from coaching football while still in his prime. I really believe coaching throwers in track and field gave him as much or even more satisfaction. He was a thrower at McPherson College and had the school record for the shot put when he graduated.
Ray Wilson, who later played football for Kansas State before Bill Snyder’s resurrection of the program, said Wesselowski had an uncanny way of relating to both athletes and students.
“He was a true mentor and friend,” said Wilson, who was a rare combination of speed (he ran the 100 and 200) and power (he threw the shot and discus). “We spent countless hours working overtime and weekends on whatever sport he was helping you with. It was always fun and he celebrated your success. His living room was always open to talk and share a laugh and treat you like an adult. We spent countless hours driving to summer track meets in my high school years and even after. He taught me levity and laughter. Work hard, but not take yourself too seriously. We spent an afternoon canoeing down the Smokey River when I was in high school and I’ll never forget it. Just relaxing, laughing and talking about life.”
Even after he had retired from coaching, he was always up to help young athletes develop their throwing.
“Wesso was my teacher and track coach as well,” said Karyne (Greischar) Schrag. “About 7 years ago, my daughter was in the eighth grade and wanted to throw the discus and shot put. I had no idea how to coach her through this, so I thought of Wesso. I called him up and he said ‘I’ll meet you at the middle school and at this time the very next day.’ He didn’t even hesitate. We were there waiting and up rides Wesso on his bike. My daughter was like “Mom, really?” He got off his bike and said ‘are you ready?’...that day you could see his passion come out and his love for the sport. She will never forget Wesso that day, neither will I and the coaching tips he gave her. What an icon.”
I didn’t see that much of Wesso the last 20 years. Every once in a while I would see him at a McPherson College football game and ask him if he missed coaching. He always told me he coached just about as long as he should have, as he didn’t want to be one of those who hung around too long. Ironically after he stepped down as football coach, MHS went through its most difficult stretch in school history, never making the playoffs from 1989 to 2005. It wasn’t until Tom Young came along did the program return to the good, ol’ “Wesso’s Days.”