Denfeld News

June 19, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

CSS hires athletic director
By Jon Nowacki

Don Olson remembers sneaking into Public Schools Stadium in the 1950s to watch high school football games.

A few years later, he shagged home runs beyond the left-field fence at Wade Stadium. That’s when the Duluth-Superior Dukes were a Detroit Tigers’ minor league affiliate and future stars, such as pitcher Denny McLain and catcher Bill Freehan, played in town.

Now Olson is returning home for what he called a “chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity” by taking the St. Scholastica athletic director’s position, the college announced Wednesday. Olson, the winningest men’s hockey coach at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., is ending his 32-year association with the Cardinals to take the Saints’ job.

Olson learned of the opening from Saints’ hockey coach Mark Wick.

“I wasn’t looking to leave, but this job just caught my attention and pulled me in,” said Olson, 58. “I’ve been asked many times, ‘Why now and why here?’ Those are very good questions, but the more I looked at it and researched it, the more excited I got. I was just extremely impressed with the entire culture and department. So to answer those questions, I’m interested because it’s St. Scholastica, and certainly, part of the pull is because it’s Duluth.”

Olson said the Saints’ position is only the second job he has applied for in 32 years.

Olson and his wife, Linda (Ion) Olson, are Duluth Denfeld graduates and have many relatives in the area. Olson, who grew up four blocks from PSS, played football, hockey and baseball, and ran track and high jumped for the Hunters.

The couple used to return home three or four times a year, but have visited more frequently after buying a lake property near Silver Bay about 10 years ago.

“Certainly, retiring is in the future, but I think taking this new position will energize me,” Olson said. “I’m looking at a good seven-plus years at Scholastica. I just think being in that environment will be a good thing for me. I’m feeling more energized every day. I’m just really looking forward to the opportunity.”

Olson earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1972 and four years later became the head men’s hockey coach at then-St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn.

He compiled a 377-399-41 record in 30 seasons, and his teams made 13 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playoff appearances, two NCAA postseason trips and one National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament. He was a three-time MIAC coach of the year and was a NAIA coach of the year.

Olson served as the Cardinals’ athletic director from 1982-2000, overseeing a department that grew from 12 varsity sports to 21. That experience should serve him well as St. Scholastica expands its athletic program. The Saints begin their first football season this fall.

Olson will replace Tony Barrett, who announced his resignation in April after three and a half years on the job, citing health issues. Barrett will continue to work in the position until Olson arrives at the end of July.

“I don’t think there is any doubt we have the right person for the job,” said Barrett, who will resume his position as an economics professor at St. Scholastica this fall. “I think Duluth attracts high-quality people to begin with, so getting a guy from here who knows the area is just a bonus. He really fits the bill.”

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