Legendary NB coach inducted into hall of fame

Baumann reflects on life achievements

Baumann poses for a picture with his family on Oct. 12 at the Crown Plaza-River Front hotel in St. Paul.  Submitted photos
Baumann poses for a picture with his family on Oct. 12 at the Crown Plaza-River Front hotel in St. Paul.
Submitted photos

Bill Baumann remembers returning to North Branch during the winter of 1984 after a basketball section championship game in Duluth.

Fire trucks lined the streets and fans organized a welcome home party to celebrate the North Branch boys basketball team’s win over St. Francis for the section title.

The head coach was in his fifth season at North Branch when his squad hit a hot streak of 12 wins, then squeaked out a narrow victory over the Fighting Saints at Duluth East High School — the first state berth in school history for the Vikings.

The memory is one of many for Baumann, who would go on to be the face of North Branch boys basketball for 26 more years, earning an overall record of 414-335 and another state trip in 2001 — just one reason the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association inducted Baumann into its hall of fame on Oct. 12, according to Executive Director John Erickson.

“To be nominated and inducted is not just about being a state championship coach, but rather the legacy you leave for others,” Erickson said. “It’s his presence on the sidelines, how he carries himself, his ability to build relationships with other coaches and parents and is a leader in his community. Bill is very, very worthy of this honor.”

His younger years

Baumann began playing basketball early in life, a supported choice as his dad, Bert, wanted to give him opportunities he hadn’t had growing up.

“My dad was a hard worker,” Baumann said. “He had jobs all throughout high school, so he wanted me to be able to do what he couldn’t — he really taught me support and loyalty.”

Baumann attended Waseca Sacred Heart, a small Catholic school in south central Minnesota, before an incident happened that would change his course.

Just before Christmas his sophomore year at Sacred Heart, Baumann’s dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack while at home. His mom, Eve, thought it best to enroll Baumann in public school at Waseca High School the following year for a fresh start.

“It was shocking,” Baumann said. “I was really, really angry, but, you know, it made me play harder.”

The 17-year-old Baumann takes on a defender as a senior guard for Waseca.
The 17-year-old Baumann takes on a defender as a senior guard for Waseca.

That anger drove the then-16-year-old to compete in football, basketball, baseball and track and field at Waseca High School, where he played under two renowned high school coaches: fellow hall of fame inductee Manny Beckmann (basketball) and Clint “Tink” Larson, member of 11 hall of fames (baseball) and good friend of Baumann’s to this day.

“The joke between the kids who played both basketball and baseball is that we survived Manny and Tink together,” Baumann said, chuckling.

He recalled one of his biggest lessons in respecting coaches during baseball season. While dressing in a locker room, he and a teammate complained about “Tink” making them run again at practice.

“We got out to the field and after everybody ran for a bit, he pointed to me and my buddy and said ‘keep running,’” Baumann said. “After each lap he would say ‘what’s my name?’ and we’d answer ‘Mr. Larson.’” Needless to say, we didn’t know he had been standing on the other side of those lockers before practice.”

Building a career

After graduating from Waseca in 1969, Baumann attended St. John’s University, where he pitched for the baseball team and played guard in basketball. He earned an undergraduate degree in social science and coaching.

Baumann took his first coaching positions at Villard High School in 1974 as assistant basketball coach and head coaches for the nine-man football team and baseball. In 1977, the young leader earned his first coaching accolade: District Football Coach of the Year.

Two years later, Baumann found a home in North Branch as assistant football coach and head basketball coach, a post he held for 31 years until retiring in 2010, when David Anderson took over as head basketball coach.

During this period, Baumann earned six Rum River Conference titles, two state appearances following section titles and was named Rum River Coach of the Year four times and Section Coach of the Year five times.

Through these honors, Baumann said he had great coaches working with him for numerous years: Larry Schlagel (20-plus years), Larry Brodine (20-plus years), John Gunderson (15-plus years) and Jim Van Eerdan (12-plus years).

“You can rewind and take out all of those awards and everything else, because you just can’t compare those to the relationships you make with your coaches and kids,” Baumann. “You can take away the accolades, but you can’t take away those relationships.”

Baumann also earned the George Haun Memorial Award from the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association in 2001 and the Butch Nash Award from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association in 2004.

From 1987-1995, the Vikings coach served as athletic director at North Branch while teaching part time and coaching, leading to a Regional Athletic Director of the Year honor in 1991.

Baumann resigned as athletic director in 1995, a decision that hit him when his oldest son began playing competitive sports.

“I was supervising a ninth-grade football game and could hear the JV game going on, on the other field,” Baumann said. “I told my wife I’m not going to be over here, when I should be over watching our boys play.”

Baumann returned to the social studies department full time after that, a decision he never regretted.

Personal life

While living in Villard, Baumann met his wife Carol, to whom Baumann attributes much of his success.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” Baumann said. “I said it at the induction ceremony and I’ll say it again. She’s my biggest supporter, the rock of the family, my best critic and my shrink at the same time.”

The couple had two sons, Brad, who graduated from North Branch in 2001 as a member of the state tournament basketball team, and Britt, a 2004 graduate who helped his dad’s team advance to the section finals. Britt also went on to become a four-year starting kicker for the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Baumann named coaching his sons as the biggest highlights of his career as well as good lessons.

“Brad and Britt are two different personalities — I knew I could be harder on one more than the other, just like in coaching,” Baumann. “It’s the same as my philosophy with teams: not everyone will be treated equally, but everyone will be treated fairly. The trick of coaching is to understand when and which kids to push and when to back off.”

Can’t keep him away

Though Baumann retired in 2010 as a decorated coach and published author of two e-books — “Secrets of the Passing Game” and “Secrets of the Match-up” — Cambridge-Isanti’s head boys basketball coach Mike McDonald persuaded him to take on the role of assistant coach for the Bluejackets.

McDonald told Baumann he had always admired his aggressive, pressing style of play dubbed “organized chaos” by the former Vikings coach.

Baumann said the role of assistant fits him perfectly at his point in his career. He enjoys the task of planning practice and building relationships with the Bluejacket players, but joked that not being on the Vikings bench took some getting used to.

“Cambridge and Chisago Lakes have always been rivals, but definitely more so Chisago Lakes,” Baumann said, laughing. “You definitely won’t see me on that bench.”

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