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Leaving his legacy

Olson loved by family, friends, former players

Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 12:09 a.m. CDT
Caption
In this submitted photo, Terry Olson is shown debating with a referee while standing next to head football coach Dwight Sellers. Olson, who died on Dec. 18, spent parts of 5 decades helping coach sports in Polo.

When you spend a couple of decades in the coaching business, the stories are bound to stack up.

Some become legendary.

Such is the case with one story in particular about longtime Polo football assistant Terry Olson, who passed away Dec. 18 at the age of 71.

"Terry was never hesitant about sharing his opinion with the officials," fellow assistant and longtime friend Dale Hall said. "Now, Terry wasn't big in stature, but he'd go out and question a call very loudly, but he'd always have Dwight [Sellers, the head coach] there to back him up. Dwight was a big guy, and Terry would yell at the ref with Dwight standing right behind him. The official might start over toward the sideline, then he'd take one look at Dwight standing behind Terry, and just shrug his shoulders and walk away.

"Some of the officials called Terry 'The Agitator' after that."

It's a story that is told over and over again as folks talk about the man who became known as "T-Bone" in his later years, thanks to a joking moniker he incurred on one of many fishing trips to the Wisconsin Dells.

"That happened all the time," said Gary Ferb, who came into the Polo district as a young coach a few years after Olson. "Terry was always … helping the officials, but he was always half-hidden behind Dwight while he was correcting everything he felt the officials were doing wrong. That struck me as one of the funniest sights on the sideline."

Olson and Hall were half of a quartet that spent 20 years coaching football for the Marcos. Along with fellow assistant Bill Jenkins, they served as Sellers' right-hand men from 1965-1985.

Now Hall is the only one left, but the others will live on in his stories and the collective memory of the community of Polo.

"It was such an interesting group to be around and learn from," Ferb said. "The way those guys all tied together and meshed – and they had such different personalities and styles – was amazing.

"I always say that everything I learned about coaching, I learned from those guys."

•••

In addition to his football assistant duties, Olson taught elementary school math and also coached seventh grade basketball. Hall was the eighth grade coach, and another vivid memory sticks out and gets Hall chuckling.

"There was always this med kit sitting next to the bench, and Terry always sat on that instead of the bench," Hall said. "Anyway, this one day, there were just a ton of fouls called in the seventh-grade game, and Terry was sitting there, agitated, telling the officials how many unnecessary calls he thought they were making.

"So, his game gets done, and he goes down into the locker room with his kids, and my guys start warming up. Terry comes back up, walks in the gym, and sits back down on the med kit. One of the officials walks over and Ts him up, hits him with a technical.

"He hadn't said a word, just walked in and sat back down. I asked the ref what it was for, and he said he should have done it in during the first game, but he didn't want Terry to get all upset."

With Olson teaching at the elementary school, Hall said there were times, especially after the season, when the other three wouldn't see him for weeks or even months. But every time they got together, it was like no time had passed at all, "like we hadn't missed a beat."

Such was the friend who was Terry Olson. And it wasn't just fellow coaches who felt that way.

"Former players were always calling Dad for advice, even years after they had grown up and moved on," Olson's older son, Chris, said. "Along the way, he became friends with a lot of his former players; over the years, the age gap between them really closed."

"I think a lot of the guys were a little frightened of him, and they had a healthy respect for Dad," younger son Scott added. "They played their hearts out for him, and that respect went both ways. There was always an open-door policy at our house, and it's rare to get the chance to hang out with somebody you respected and feared growing up. A lot of those guys ended up being good friends with Dad."

•••

Olson and his coaching cohorts ushered in a golden age of Polo football. The Marcos finished .500 or above in 17 of those 21 seasons, including 12 of the final 13 of Sellers' tenure, and made the playoffs six times in the nine seasons between 1977 and 1985.

"You couldn't have better guys coaching you," former player Bruce Scholl said, "because they always had the kids first at heart."

"They definitely enjoyed the kids," said neighbor and former player Dan Pontnack. "He made you work extremely hard, but he wasn't afraid to put his arm around you and tell you how good a job you did. He was fun to play for."

Within the close-knit community of Polo, the Olsons' neighborhood was like a community unto itself. The Pontnacks lived across the street, the Sellers were a few houses away, and the Jenkins were nearby as well. Cookouts in backyards were a common occurrence, and the parents of the kids spent time together while the kids were out playing on the weekends.

"We were all pretty much part of one big family, really," Pontnack said. "Chris and Scott were always coming down to our house, all of us going out to play basketball until 9 p.m. before riding our bikes home. Terry was my dad's best friend, and I considered Terry a friend of mine … as did a lot of his former players."

Scholl was one of those, and he had the unique opportunity to see his kids coached by Olson as well. After Olson retired from teaching, he sold insurance, but served as a volunteer assistant on the basketball team when Bruce's sons Matt and Scott played for the Marcos in the late 2000s.

"That added so much, because my kids got to see what I had experienced when I was a player," Scholl said. "I felt that was great for them, and Terry never changed. He was the same in 2007 as he was in 1978, always wanting what was best for the kids. He was quite a man; I was very fortunate to play for him, and my kids were, too."

•••

Terry Olson's sons were also fortunate enough to get to play for their dad. With mom Judy and sister Heather always cheering them on, Chris played for his dad in seventh grade basketball, while Scott played football and basketball for Terry in high school.

"It was maybe the hardest thing I've ever done, playing for Dad," Chris said, "but after it was over, it was the most gratifying thing, and I was most appreciative of that chance. He was always so proud of all of us, Scott and Heather and I, and the respect we had for him was second to none."

Scott was on the 1986 regional title team, a year Terry took over as coach because no one else was interested. Scott said playing for his father that season wasn't difficult, even though he garnered a bit more attention from his coach as the team's leading scorer.

"We had made it to the playoffs in football, so we didn't have that much time to practice before the first games," Scott recalled. "But my friends and I had all played for him in seventh grade, so we just ran the exact same stuff that we had back then … and it worked.

"I remember one game, we were up like 15 points or so in the second half, and I threw a pass to the wing that was intercepted. I chased the guy at three-quarters speed, and Dad called timeout after the layup. He met me at half-court, finger in my face, and didn't talk to anybody the entire timeout except me. That's just who Dad was: very verbose, always finding ways to make you excel and want to win."

•••

The word most often heard when talking about Terry Olson is "respect." He had it for everybody he taught and coached and befriended, and they had it for him … in spades.

It was a blend of things that was the reason for this, not the least of which was his work ethic and dedication.

"Terry was a guy who had high standards," Hall said. "He expected a lot out of the kids who played, but he didn't expect any more out of them than what he gave himself."

"He worked so hard, and he expected as much or more from himself as he did from the kids," Scholl said. "I was taller than him in junior high, but he commanded so much respect that I never felt like I was looking down on him, only looking up to him."

It was his way with kids that sticks out most to Ferb. As a young science teacher turned coach, Ferb was always trying to find better ways to reach his students and players. He got a firsthand tutorial from the man who taught in the same classroom right after him.

"How he handled the kids and interacted with them was the most impressive thing," Ferb said. "The way he could inspire the kids, knowing what it took to get them going. He could chew out a kid who needed a talking-to, but then he could turn around and put his arm around the kid and be joking with him a few minutes later."

It was the same way at home, something both of Terry's sons say they were lucky to have. And while it was something they appreciated in its time, their father's impact on themselves and the community of Polo – which Chris calls "a special community to his family" – has revealed itself even more the past few weeks.

"I think Dad was the glue that held the family together, and we're trying to pick up the pieces now," Chris Olson said. "The tributes, the cards, the number of people at the funeral and the wake, it's so overwhelming. As a player of his, I knew the impact he had on lives, but you just don't realize the extent of it until you see it for yourself; it's just been phenomenal."

Olson file

Born: Sept. 18, 1942, in Morrison

Died: Dec. 18, 2013, in Polo

Family: Wife Judy, daughter Heather, sons Chris & Scott

Occupation: Teacher, coach, insurance salesman

Hobbies: Fishing, camping, sports of all kinds

FYI: Spent 21 seasons as assistant football coach in Polo. … Also coached seventh-grade basketball. … Coached Marcos for one season in basketball, leading them to a 23-6 record and a Class A regional title in 1985-86; his son Scott was the team's leading scorer.

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