March 5, 2007
through and through’
By Kevin Pates
A large leather chair recently was delivered to
Dukes Knutson’s home in Sarasota, Fla. It’s red, white
and blue and bears the name of his favorite baseball team —
the Minnesota Twins.
Relaxing in comfort during retirement is the plan.
The chair, however, may not be occupied very often.
Knutson, 55, one of the best-known figures among
athletes in Duluth since 1969, is retiring in June as a physical
education teacher at Duluth Denfeld High School and moving to Sarasota
in September, joining his mother in a home he owns.
But devotion to his family, the Fellowship of
Christian Athletes and baseball is expected to keep him from settling
into a cushy spot.
“He loves people and loves life, and everything
interests him,” says Marge Knutson, his mom. “He already
has things lined up for when he gets here.”
The longest-running sports connection in Knutson’s
life has been with the University of Minnesota Duluth. He’s
been a volunteer statistician for home football and men’s
hockey games since 1969, and has worked in the same capacity with
men’s and women’s basketball off and on since 1969.
He originated Fellowship of Christian Athletes
meetings at the school in two stints, the first from 1982-84 and
the second from 1992 to the present.
The best guess by school officials is that Knutson
has seen more than 1,500 UMD sporting events.
His statistical duties came to an official end
Saturday with the season’s final men’s hockey home game.
Knutson, a lifelong Duluthian and UMD graduate, sang the national
anthem before Friday’s hockey game and was honored in a ceremony
arranged by UMD sports information director Bob Nygaard.
“His tenure and support at UMD is amazing,”
Nygaard said. “There are many times that we’ve tried
to pay him for his [press box] work, but he’s turned it down.
His kind of enthusiasm, for such a long period, is something our
school will probably never see again.”
In a brief two-year paid career with UMD (1982-84),
Knutson worked in sports information. His 37-year stint overall
likely ranks only behind former football coach Jim Malosky’s
40 years of service to the athletic department.
“Even though Dukes never played sports at
UMD, he’s a Bulldog through and through. He’s one of
a kind,” said former UMD athletic director Bruce McLeod, now
commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Keeping a schedule
Thomas “Dukes” Knutson’s alarm
rings daily at 4:16 a.m. He has quiet time for himself, and then
is at Denfeld by 6:40 a.m. His first class is at 8:10 a.m. After
school he works out at the Center for Personal Fitness and often
grabs a sub sandwich.
Winter nights are usually busy with sports-related
items — at UMD, or working the scoreboard for basketball or
volleyball games at Duluth East, his alma mater, where he taught
And there are Fellowship of Christian Athletes
meetings at Denfeld and UMD.
“I don’t know if you’d say I
have a ‘purpose-driven life,’ but the best thing about
my life is the relationships I’ve developed through teaching,
UMD and FCA,” said Knutson, who is Catholic. “There’s
really not much on TV that I’m interested in and I’ve
never played a video game. I’m a person of faith and my social
life is being connected to sports.”
Knutson, who is single, does go to movies and
the theater, and bikes and jogs (running Grandma’s Marathon
in 1983), travels to Sarasota about five times a year, works at
FCA summer camps and figures he attends about 10 weddings of former
students annually. He also was previously baseball coach at East
and Denfeld, and assistant boys hockey coach at both schools.
His baseball loyalty is supreme.
He’s been to 23 major league ballparks,
the bulk of which were seen in a 10-day, 10-park trip in 1992, and
at one time worked in group-ticket sales for the Twins. He attends
about a dozen Twins games a season.
“Dukes is very energized, he’s dedicated
to his job, he’s go-go-go,” said retired Duluth teacher
Tim McCall, who worked with Knutson for nearly 25 years at East
and Denfeld. “He’s one of those rare people who is always
positive and always puts people at ease.”
Ed Crawford, in his second year as Denfeld principal,
sees Knutson as well-organized and something of a perfectionist
in his teaching regimen, and demanding, in a fair way, of his students.
“There was a time, when Dukes was at East,
when three students had come to school from out of state, and they
were struggling. They were having a tough time adjusting,”
Crawford said. “Dukes spent so much time and energy trying
to help. He wasn’t going to give up on them.
“That’s who he is. He genuinely cares
about his students and has influenced so many of them.”
UMD and faith
UMD hockey winger Brad Penner of Steinbach, Manitoba,
was looking for something more in his college life as a senior in
the fall of 1992. He knew Knutson and approached him about restarting
FCA meetings at the school.
Penner ultimately led the meetings, now regularly
attended by about 60 men and women on campus. Knutson says the purpose
is to create an environment for students to explore and be comfortable
with their faith.
“So many good things have come through FCA
because of Dukes,” said Penner, 37, who lives in Plymouth,
Minn., and works in sales for a construction company. “He
was very supportive, very willing to help. He was the one who, if
you were having a bad day, was always there for you.”
Duluth native Brett Larson, a UMD defenseman from
1991-95 and an FCA member, remembers being impressed by Knutson’s
love of sports and passion for faith. Just before the start of each
home hockey game, after UMD had huddled on the ice, Larson pointed
toward the DECC press box to Knutson, who waved back.
Larson jokes that the connection may have been
the reason for earning 43 assists in his UMD career with Knutson
as official scorer.
“When I think back to UMD, the two most
positive guys I was around were Dukes and Hogie [volunteer hockey
manager Dale Haagenson],” said Larson, 34, of Orlando, Fla.,
who played international hockey until last season.
The past three years, Knutson also has served
as chaplain for UMD’s football team, which includes meeting
before home games in the school dining center. About 35 players
take part in praying and reading Bible verses.
Offensive lineman Mark Knudsen of Muskego, Wis.,
a 2006 captain, was motivated enough by his FCA experience to become
more involved, and will work as an FCA camp intern this summer.
“You get fellowship there that you don’t
get anywhere else, and it starts with Dukes,” said Knudsen,
22, who will receive a physical education degree in May. “He’s
an amazing witness for the Lord.”
Marge Knutson, 89, presently lives on her own,
but is looking forward to the move of her son, whom she calls Tom.
She says he’s much like her husband, Ed, a salesman, who died
“Tom’s father had great morals. He
would kneel down and say a prayer every morning and there’s
no doubt Tom was affected by that,” Marge said. “Tom
finds the good in everyone. He’s very patient and he takes
wonderful care of me.”
After 32 years of teaching, Knutson says he’ll
miss the students.
After 37 years with UMD, including his undergraduate
days, he says he’ll miss the games.
But after the last day of school on June 8, he’ll
prepare for heading south and taking a break, and at least some
time in his favorite chair.
“Sarasota already seems like home and I’m
looking forward to starting new relationships and being ready for
whatever life brings next,” Knutson said.