Denfeld News

August 24, 2011
Duluth News Tribune

Final tribute will be made to former Morgan Park star
By Rick Weegman

One of Paul Nace’s traditions was to have friends over to his Morgan Park house following high school basketball and football games.

The spirit of that tradition will continue one last time tonight when friends and family gather at the Nace residence to remember the former star athlete, coach and administrator who passed away Monday at age 82 at St. Luke’s hospital.

“After every game, everybody came over to my dad’s house and got together,” his son, Jeff, said Tuesday night. “We’re inviting them all over (tonight) for one last hurrah.”

Nace was a senior point guard on the 1947 Duluth Denfeld team that won the single-class state basketball title, sinking the game-winning shot with 17 seconds remaining to beat favored Mountain Lake in the semifinals at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The Two Harbors native later coached boys and girls basketball and track at Morgan Park High School, including the school’s lone appearance in the boys basketball state tournament in 1979, served as athletic director at Morgan Park and coached girls basketball at Denfeld after Morgan Park closed. He eventually retired in the mid-1980s.

“My dad never talked about his accomplishments at all,” said Jeff Nace, longtime boys basketball coach at Denfeld. “But down in the basement, in the corner, he has his state tournament stuff there. One of the things that he was most proud of was that he played in the state tournament and also coached in one.”

Ken Sunnarborg, a co-captain of that ’47 team, recalled Nace being the player who made that squad excel.

“Paul was really the leader of that team,” Sunnarborg said of the All-State selection. “He ran the offense and everybody looked to Paul to start the move. He was well-versed in basketball and knew how to use his fellow teammates. He was an exceptional basketball player.”

Nace perhaps showed his future coaching acumen before the tournament when he inspired his teammates to victory.

“Paul said, ‘We’re going down to the state, but we’re not going down to just take a ride. We’re going down to take it all and bring the trophy home.’” Sunnarborg recalled. “It was one of the experiences of a lifetime.”

Milan Karich, a senior at Morgan Park, played against Nace in the 1947 district finals and later became a coaching rival at Hermantown and eventually his superior as principal at Morgan Park from 1969-85. The pair also were part of a golfing foursome at Nemadji Golf Course for at least 25 years.

“Paul was an excellent teacher, coach, athletic director and a very valuable faculty member,” Karich said. “I think the world of him, and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. There was never a dull moment when you were in his presence.”

Nace was preceded in death by his high school sweetheart and wife of 59 years, Joyce, a brother, Bill Nace, and a grandson, Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, who died fighting in Iraq in 2008. He is survived by four children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Visitation is from 10-11 a.m. Thursday, followed by the memorial service at United Protestant Church in Morgan Park.

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