Deserved recognition: Former DSU coach Biesiot, among 6 to receive special achievement award
MINOT — The North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association selected six veteran coaches to receive its Special Achievement Award. Hank Biesiot, Ryam Brantl, Fred Fridley, Brad Sandy, Duane Schwab and Len Stanley were chosen in 2014 for the honor.
After 38 years with the Dickinson State football program, Biesiot retired following the 2013 season.
Biesiot joined the Blue Hawks in 1972 as a defensive coordinator and took over as head coach in 1975. Under his tenure, DSU went 258-122-1, claimed 17 conference championships and made the NAIA playoffs 15 times, including seven of his last 12 seasons.
He finished his career as NAIA’s second all-time winningest coach and was briefly locked in a three-way tie for first at 256 in 2012.
In 2006, Biesiot became the first DSU head coach to be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame. He received 19 different coach of the year awards throughout his tenure, including a dozen in the Dakota Athletic Conference and North Dakota Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Biesiot said he couldn’t have done it without the help and support of his players and assistant coaches throughout the years.
“An award one person gets certainly reflects on a lot of people, players and other coaches have to share, that’s the first thing I think about,” Biesiot said. “... Had lots and lots of help along the way.”
With the shock of the honor and gratefulness to his players and coaches aside, Biesiot also said it doesn’t hurt to be acknowledged for a career which hardly felt like work.
“I don’t know if you should get awards for something that you like doing,” he said. “It’s been truly a vacation for the last 40 years or whatever it’s been. A wonderful vacation.”
Brantl retired last summer from the baseball coaching position he had held at Thompson High School for 37 seasons.
Brantl took a teaching and coaching position at Thompson in 1976 after two years at Grandin.
His Thompson teams compiled a 537-193 record. Over his final 30 seasons, Brantl took the Tommies to 15 Class B state tournaments.
“I was fortunate to be able to work with some great kids who were willing to work hard,” Brantl said. “And we had some real quality pitchers. That was a pretty big factor in our success.”
Brantl’s teams won state championships in 1983, 1985, 1999 and 2005. It’s doubtful any of his Tommies teams dominated the postseason like the 2005 squad.
Over its final five postseason games, that 2005 team outscored opponents 66-13. No opponent came closer than five runs in that span. The Tommies won three of those five games by the 10-run rule, including victories of 18-4 over Northern Cass in the state semifinals and 20-2 over Grafton in the state championship.
“We had a lot of seniors and a lot of good hitters on that team,” Brantl said. “Up and down the lineup, that was probably the most consistent group I’ve had as far as being able to put the ball in play and hit for power. And there was good speed on that team.”
His best team?
“That would be too hard to answer,” Brantl said. “We’ve had a lot of good teams over the years.”
The longtime Watford City football coach called it a career after 42 years and nine state championships.
Fridley compiled a 321-103 career record and garnered numerous state and national coaching accolades. The Wolves reached the state championship game 16 times and won 56 straight regular-season contests from 1974-81 under Fridley’s direction.
“We were a very dominant football team in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” Fridley said. “Watford City had a tradition of being a football capital of North Dakota. That’s something that I feel really proud of.”
Fridley began his coaching career at Fessenden before taking his first head football job at Watford City.
He ended his career as North Dakota’s all-time winningest coach and his nine state titles rank second all-time. The Wolves’ football stadium was renamed in 1997 to Fridley Field.
“The town of Watford City appreciated me a great deal,” Fridley said. “They named the football field after me and that meant a great deal. Those are the things that I remember.”
Fridley has previously been inducted into the state and national halls of fame. In 1997 he was named the national high school coach of the year. Forty-two of his players were named all-state, with many continuing their football careers in college.
“I look back at it as all the good athletes I had and all the good times that we had,” Fridley said. “Those are the things that I’m going to remember. It’s not always just the state championships.”
Sandy’s fondest memories from his 34-year football coaching career include two sets of three: his three state championships and coaching his three sons.
His first title came in 1998, during his first year at Harvey, and two more followed in 2007 and 2008.
“Obviously the state championships are pretty special,” said Sandy, who compiled a career record of 204-120. “The first one is always special.”
Sandy began his career in 1980 at Turtle Lake, then shifted to Bottineau in 1991 before finally landing at Harvey. His Turtle Lake squad finished runner-up in 1986 in 9-man and Bottineau won a region title in 1991 under his direction.
“There’s just lots of good things that have come of (my career),” Sandy said. “Hopefully I made an impact on a kid or two. Those kids certainly did on me.”
Sandy’s sons — Blair, Brock and Bryan — were key players at Harvey. All three played in college, with Blair and Bryan attending the University of Mary and Brock playing for Minot State.
“I was fortunate to coach my sons,” Brad Sandy said. “They were pretty decent football players. That was kind of a neat thing.”
Harvey’s rivalry with Velva, coached by Sandy’s brother Larry, provided many memorable contests. Many came in the state playoffs, with the winner advancing to the Dakota Bowl. From 1997 to 2010, Harvey and Velva combined to win 12 of 14 Class A state championships.
“There was probably a good decade where we just dominated our division of football and we ended up playing each other in the semis,” Brad Sandy said. “Unbelievable football. Those are the real positive things I remember about it.”
After a long career as a basketball coach, including the past 25 seasons as head women’s coach at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, Schwab retired from coaching after this past season.
His last game on the sidelines was when the Lady Royals were eliminated in March at this past season’s junior college national tournament. It was the Lady Royals’ ninth appearance at nationals under Schwab’s leadership.
In his 25 seasons with the program, Schwab compiled a 572-243 record.
Schwab has a two-word answer for the main reason for his success.
“Good players,” he said.
He won with a lot of local talent. He’s had several Devils Lake High School players on his rosters. But the biggest talent source came from the North Dakota Class B high school ranks.
“We tried to stay local as much as we could, and girls basketball in North Dakota has been pretty darn good,” Schwab said. “We were always finding good athletes. We recruited Class B pretty heavily.
“They were always good offensive players. They could shoot and handle the ball. We had to teach them how to play defense and be good all-around players. That was fun. I enjoyed the teaching part of the game. And you could see how hungry those small-town kids were to play college basketball.”
There was more to basketball than just winning, though.
“We never in my 25 years of coaching here lost a kid due to academic ineligibility,” Schwab said.
Prior to landing the Lake Region women’s basketball coaching position, Schwab — who played two seasons of baseball and basketball at Lake Region — had coached in the Class B prep ranks. He led Lakota to the 1975 and 1976 Class B boys state basketball tournaments.
Stanley, a Mandan native, coached basketball for 41 years before retiring in March.
He began his career during his last two years of college, but knew long before then that he was destined to coach.
“I knew I was going to be a coach from the time I was in junior high school,” Stanley said. “My mentors were all coaches and I knew I was going to teach and be a coach early on.”
Stanley, whose 615 career victories are the most all-time according to the Hoopster, built the Washburn girls basketball program into a powerhouse. In 1983 and 1991, he led the Cardinals to Class B state titles, finishing both seasons undefeated.
“I was blessed with some really good athletes,” Stanley said.
In addition to basketball, Stanley coached high school baseball and Legion baseball in Washburn. He never won a state title, but came close and coached winning teams.
Stanley left Washburn for Williston State where he coached women’s basketball and college baseball, along with Legion baseball in the summer. After his time in Williston, he came to Bismarck State and did the same duties for all three sports. He coached the Mandan Chiefs in Legion ball.
After leaving BSC, Stanley spent the last couple of years leading the Mandan girls basketball team.
“You’re getting paid for it, but I never looked at it as being a job,” Stanley said. “It was a labor of love. It wasn’t like going to work every day. It was something I looked forward to.”
Greg Devillers of the Grand Forks Herald, Cindy Peterson of the Bismarck Tribune and Meaghan MacDonald of the Dickinson Press also contributed to the story.