Longtime Beach girls basketball coach Bob Waldal dies at 71
BEACH — Bob Waldal amassed more than 300 victories over parts of five decades of coaching basketball in North Dakota, but that lifetime record is hardly the record of a lifetime.
Waldal had fought prostate cancer for the better part of the last two years, and it eventually forced him out of coaching the game he loved so much after the 2015-16 season at Beach High School. On Friday morning, Oct. 13, 2017, Waldal died at age 71 in Beach, surrounded by most of his immediate family.
He will be remembered as a spiritual man, a loving father, a goat farmer and even briefly as a minor league baseball player. And, of course, one heck of a basketball coach.
"Bob had the answer for everything," said Mark Golberg, an assistant coach to Waldal in his final two years on the bench. "A lot of it came down to the fundamentals of basketball. He knew all the Xs and Os, but when it came to coaching, it was, 'You gotta be able to dribble, you gotta be able to pass, and you gotta be able to shoot.'"
And so the Running Bucs were born.
"If anyone got a rebound, they would just go. We wouldn't have to wait for a guard to take it," said Emily Hardy, a senior on Waldal's 2010 Class B state championship team at Beach. "We'd get down the floor faster than the other team. He always said to wear them out."
Waldal entered coaching in the 1970s, first in Golva and later at Watford City and Mandaree. His 1978 Watford City girls team placed sixth at the state tournament. He also coached boys basketball periodically throughout his career.
He arrived at Beach in 1988 and started turning the girls program around. His first team went to state and placed fifth.
The 1989 team won the Class B state championship, defeating Carrington 63-51 in the final. The 1990 team went 27-0, averaged 82 points a game and defeated Carrington again in the final, this time 82-33.
Three of his five daughters played a role on those state tournament teams. Jackie and Christy played on all three, while Carey was a senior in 1988. Waldal is survived by two other daughters, Bobbi Sue and Tammy, and longtime partner Barb Geise.
Return to coaching
Waldal got out of coaching following the 1991 fall girls basketball season, but he returned for one year in 1999 and coached Beach's girls to second place in the district tournament and the boys to an 11-win improvement from the previous year.
He returned to coach the girls for the 2005-06 season and stayed through 2015-16, a stretch that saw five straight state appearances beginning with that 2010 title, a 66-57 win against Central Cass.
"I remember him pulling me and Abby (Weinreis) outside of the gym, and we were going to be eighth-graders, and he was saying, 'When are we going to win the state title? When are you guys going to do it?'" recalled Jill (Rising) Buchholz, a junior in 2010. "We were both too nervous to laugh. ... It hadn't happened in 20 years in Beach, but he already saw it in us.
"He saw the hidden potential in everyone else. He saw way more in me than I saw in myself. He pushed you out of your comfort zone, and it was hard, but he made you a better player and a better person."
Hardy echoed those sentiments. As did 2010 junior Abby (Weinreis) Niece.
"He taught us so much about respect," Hardy said. "Every time he walked into a room, I sat up straighter just because I respected him so much."
Niece added: "He definitely made us respect every person. He taught us how to work hard and to put dedication into everything."
That mindset trickled down to his players but also to other young coaches that he worked with.
"It was halftime of the state championship game (in 2010), and I happened to be standing by where they come out of the locker room — and it was a tight game," said Nate Zachmann, then a junior at Dickinson State. "He walks by me, grabs me by the shoulder and says, 'Hey, what are you doing next summer? I need someone to help me with my basketball camp.' And I had always wanted to get into coaching. And I couldn't believe he was thinking about that. He was always a play ahead of everybody, and in this case he was a year ahead of everybody.
"He asked me to help run his camp and I did and I loved it. I learned so much from him — his triple-threat, his offensive stuff, his defensive stuff — and I still use it today."
Zachmann is now the head boys basketball coach at Mott-Regent, where he also helps coach football and track and field.
"He was really a people person and a very generous spirit," said Dickinson Trinity girls basketball coach Carter Fong. "All of us younger coaches in the region really looked up to him as well."
Before the bench
Prior to his coaching career, Waldal, a Los Angeles native, was a star on what was then the Dickinson State College men's basketball team.
As a senior in 1968, Waldal battled a nagging ankle injury to help the Savages go 11-1 in the North Dakota College Athletic Conference, winning the league title for the fourth consecutive year.
"I wasn't around to see it with my own eyes," Fong said, "but I'm sure Bob had Scott Gym rocking."
DSC followed with wins over Yankton (S.D.) College and Dakota Wesleyan in the NAIA District 12 tournament, earning a trip to Kansas City for the NAIA National Tournament. While there, DSC became the first District 12 team to ever win a game at the national tournament, posting victories against Washburn (Kan.) University and St. Cloud (Minn.) State before losing in the quarterfinals to Fairmont (W.V.) State. The Savages finished 23-6 overall, and Waldal ended his career with more than 1,800 points.
After college, he toured with some minor league baseball teams, but he also earned a tryout with the 1968 Olympics men's basketball team, and he was drafted and invited to training camp with the New York Knicks before eventually being cut.
"He loved playing baseball — most people don't know that," Golberg said. "He really loved the team aspect, but he saw it was far greater in basketball than it was back in his time when he was playing baseball."
His preference to basketball led to three Class B state titles for the Buccaneers, but it also influenced generations of athletes and coaches across Beach's tiny community and the state at large.
"I was AD when we hired him for the last go-round, and there's really no one who cared more about Beach and Buccaneers athletics than Bob Waldal," current head football coach Mike Zier said. "I'm going to miss the connection he had with the community and with the kids."
Golberg added: "He was such a sweet person. No matter who you were or what you did, he wanted to know about you. ... He really cared about you more than just a basketball player. He cared about his players as people, and I think that shows in a lot of his players today."
Before his passing, Waldal penned a short message, that has since been shared on Facebook, to family and friends and supporters and old teammates. It briefly summarizes his final days, and many of his values shine through in the writing: religion and faith, responsibility, friendship, being good teammates and remembering the "fun"damentals.
Before signing off, he writes: "Peace, love and basketball."
There's nothing more fundamental than that.