Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Feb. 26, 2001

Merrill Skinner honored for quarter century of coaching

By Lynda Jensen

Former players, coaches, and friends filled the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School Auditorium Feb. 17 to recognize Merrill Skinner for 25 years of coaching Laker basketball.

The program surprised Skinner, who was giving a post game speech following a grueling win against the Sibley East boys basketball team.

Although a small event was advertised, secretly a committee of 17 former players and parents planned a large reception for Skinner.

The night included food, piano music and a program that detailed Skinner's achievements.

The program highlighted a man it was said who would never swear, was enthusiastic, modest, gentle, dedicated, and a master of clichës.

Some of Skinner's favorite sayings include "cat on a hot tin roof," (in relation to moving quickly on the court), "never look ahead, never look behind," "all for one and one for all," and the idea that other teams - no matter how good - put their pants on one leg at a time, according to Mike Gagnon, and Brian Barth, two former Lakers who played under Skinner.

Barth remembers Skinner saying that "even a blind squirrel can find an acorn," when a player on the opposing team got a particularly good shot in.

Skinner is well known for keeping a good attitude, win or lose, and for being a strategist.

One thing to watch for, though: when Skinner purposely drops his clipboard, it usually means he is not happy, Gagnon said.

"He's a mastermind," Barth said of Skinner's coaching ability - making his game plans two or three games ahead of time. "He's good at Xs and Os," he said.

A testimony to Skinner's strategy includes a generous list of accomplishments, including:

· An overall record of 329 wins and 236 losses.

· Currently running a conference streak of 24 games.

· A conference winning steak of 60 games from 1977-1981.

· Runner-up at the state tournament in 1979, and fourth place at the state tournament in 1978.

· Region championships in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1990.

· Central Minnesota Conference championships 1999, 2000 (2001?).

· Wright County Conference Championships in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1989, 1990, and 1991.

· Coached the out state all stars in 1979.

The current Laker team has a perfect record on the road and has winning streak of 11 consecutive wins.

During the program, Skinner received an autographed basketball honoring his years of coaching presented by Lee Kaltved, former athletic director at Howard Lake.

Speakers included Gagnon, Barth, coaching colleague John Riewer, former assistant coach Mike Stueven, friend Kirby Klingelhofer, and Dale Burau.

"The evening program was a mixture of laughter and praise, reminiscing about practices, games, friendships, and life's lessons learned," commented Bob Wynnemer, father of player Brad Wynnemer.

The current Laker team presented Skinner a blue and gold monogrammed warm up suit.

The evening ended with the presentation of a Wheaties box of cereal with Skinner on the front, followed by the Laker huddle, comprised of all current and former players present.

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