Whether it was during his days as a four-sport athlete, as a successful football coach and administrator or a basketball official, Ray Kosey always was well-organized and prepared.
But Superior High School’s activities director for the past 15 years couldn’t have been ready for what transpired in his final semester before retirement.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic shut down all school activities, leaving the detail-oriented Kosey with more time on his hands.
“I feel bad for our kids, especially our seniors, who lost out on that spring sports experience,” Kosey said. “And those coaches invested a lot of time from last season to be prepared. That’s what I feel the worst about is for those seniors and coaches. It’s definitely something everybody will remember.”
Kosey, who turns 55 on July 6, officially begins his retirement the following day.
“It’s just time to move on and do something different,” said Kosey, who has been married for 30 years and has two daughters and two granddaughters. “It’s a rewarding job, but it’s a job where you put in 60 to 80 hours a week. There’s times where you can’t get away from the job, it follows you home at nights and on weekends. It’s time to slow down and commit to the family.”
It wasn’t rare for Kosey to be in the office by 6 a.m., sending out emails to everyone involved in that day’s activities or updating people on what had happened the previous day. After a day’s worth of handling schedules and organizing activities, Kosey was a staple at home games in the evening.
Students and coaches at Superior won’t be the only ones to miss Kosey’s tireless approach. Even rival activities directors appreciated his availability.
“You knew Ray would answer whether it was a telephone call, an email or a text,” longtime Hermantown activities director Beth Clark said. “He is very professional and proactive. He put a lot of hours in. He’d be sending out emails at 6 in the morning and if you had to ask him a question after hours, he always picked up the phone.”
Kosey was a four-sport athlete in high school in Ontonagon, Michigan, playing football, basketball and baseball and participating in track and field.
Kosey spent two seasons at Brainerd Community College before playing football and baseball for two years at Wisconsin-Superior. He was named UWS Male Athlete of the Year in 1987 and ’88.
That’s when his preparedness and organizational skills took root.
“He is very detail-oriented and very conscientious,” Superior football coach Bob DeMeyer said. “That’s how he prepared as an athlete and a teacher. He’s very well-respected because of that levelheadedness that he has. He looks at things from all perspectives and is fair and equitable. He’s the voice of reason.”
DeMeyer first crossed paths with Kosey in 1987 when he was a freshman quarterback for the Yellowjackets and Kosey was a senior free safety in football and a centerfielder in baseball.
“He was like having another coach on the field,” said DeMeyer, who went on to play at the semi-pro level. “He is one of the best all-around athletes that I have played with, played against or seen. He was a remarkable athlete and ultra-competitive. Just a first-class guy all the way around.”
DeMeyer recalls Kosey making a key interception in a game against Minnesota Duluth that UWS ultimately lost by a field goal at Griggs Field. One official, however, ruled Kosey trapped the ball.
“I think everyone but one official — and I will never argue with an official because I am one of them — thought it was an interception,” Kosey said. “That played a big part in the outcome of the game.”
Upon graduating in 1989, Kosey was hired as a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Maple and then moved on to the middle school. Eventually he became the driver’s education instructor at Northwestern High School.
“My first year was the worst because you didn’t realize all the things that kids don’t see behind the wheel,” said Kosey, who later replaced Andy Lind as head football coach at Northwestern. “After that you kind of knew when kids wouldn’t see a stop sign or weren’t going to slow down around the corner.”
One of those students he instructed was Jovin Kroll, who played football under Kosey for four years and is now the school’s head coach.
“He found a way to maintain that success throughout the rest of the decade,” Kroll said of the football program. “He surrounded himself with quality people.”
Kroll says Kosey organized fun activities for the players such as wiffle ball games, making a homemade water slide out of a tarp at practice or taking trips to the Brule River. And when he lined up on the field, players listened.
“He was the best athlete on the football field when he was our head coach,” Kroll said of Kosey, who was inducted into the UWS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004. “We couldn’t keep up with him. He was stronger, faster and could fly around compared to us high schoolers.”
That connection was crucial to his relationship with the players, Kosey says.
“That was something that helped me relate to the kids,” he said. “I was someone who played the game at their level or a little higher. Northwestern was similar to my high school, a smaller school where people wanted to come (watch the game) on a Friday night.”
Kroll says he adopted certain traits from Kosey that he uses today as a coach.
“He was always very organized and demonstrated a lot of composure,” he said. “He never seemed to panic or flinch. He had complete control of his emotions and what he needed to do in the best interest of the team.”
AD job was difficult
Kosey already lived in Superior and his wife, Kris, worked in the school district during his time at Northwestern.
So as his daughters, Taylor and Raya, approached their teen years, Kosey wanted to be closer to town to watch them participate in athletics.
That’s when Larry Cole stepped aside as Superior AD and Kosey was hired.
He quickly learned that the AD job had its ups and downs.
“The AD job is a tough job,” he said. “There’s too many people involved in the decisions you make. Someone’s not going to like it. You have to listen to people and get all the information you can, and then make the best decision with the information you have at that time. I hope people will say that I at least listened to them and used their input.”
Steve Olson, who predated Kosey as Superior’s AD and was his basketball officiating partner for 16 years, says Kosey’s demeanor on the court was a good precursor to handling AD duties.
“One of his greatest qualities is that he had the knack not to get overly excited in certain situations,” Olson said. “He had this calmness about him. He wanted to make sure that whatever he was investigating, he had everything well thought out and investigated before making that final decision.”
Kosey found his organizational skills to be a good fit for the position. But that didn’t mean things didn’t slip through the cracks.
“Those are the things that woke me up at 3 or 4 in the morning,” Kosey said. “As an AD and a coach, the littlest detail can affect the results. As an AD there’s so many things — workers, officials, supervision, ticket sellers. I think I was good with lists and organization, but I had a lot of great support.”
Some of that support came in the form of DeMeyer, who had replaced Kosey as a middle school physical education teacher and then served as his offensive coordinator for most of his nine years as Northwestern head coach. When Superior’s head football coaching job opened a year after Kosey’s arrival, DeMeyer stepped into that breach and transformed the Spartans into a playoff contender during his 14 seasons at the helm.
DeMeyer also worked closely with Kosey in revitalizing Superior’s athletic facilities. The football team eventually moved from run-down Ole Haugsrud Field to NBC Spartan Sports Complex behind the high school. The football/soccer turf field was state of the art when it debuted, and Kosey’s persistence was key to getting the project completed.
“If you ask me, it wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did if Ray wasn’t so diligent,” DeMeyer said. “He was a key figure in making that happen. He worked for several years to make that happen.”
As usual, Kosey deflects much of the credit, instead citing Superior School Board president Len Albrecht as the inspiration behind the development. He lists the complex, which grew to include baseball and softball fields, as his No. 1 achievement.
“I did play a big role in the design and the construction of it,” Kosey acknowledged. “I think it was the highlight of my career to see that grow out of the ground and develop into the sports complex that we have right now. It’s one of the better ones in the state.”
Excelled at officiating
Little did Kosey know that a knee injury suffered during his freshman football season at Brainerd Community College would lead to another important aspect of his life.
The injury forced Kosey to give up playing basketball, and in the interim he started officiating the sport.
That’s something he’s continued to the present day and will do in retirement.
Kosey worked seven state basketball tournaments and one final with Olson. The duo often was acclaimed as the best in the Northland.
“You knew what you were going to get,” said Clark, who has coached Hermantown girls basketball for 32 years. “They were always consistent. They let kids play the game. They were educators who taught kids how to do things. They didn’t have knee-jerk reactions, they just calmly made their calls and were very professional.”
Kosey and Olson became good friends during their 16 years calling hundreds of games together.
“We had the same kind of belief on the court, to let the kids play and call what needed to be called,” Olson said. “We were there to manage the game, we were supposed to be the arbiters of the game. We had a common philosophy.”
Kosey officiates games in Minnesota now in order to reduce travel and plans to start calling youth football games this fall.
He’ll also have more time to spend with daughters Taylor (a speech therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota) and Raya (a hair stylist in Superior) and his 2- and 4-year-old granddaughters.
In recent weeks, Kosey has shuttled back and forth between his home and the Upper Peninsula, where his mother, Patricia, is in hospice after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Kosey’s father, Ron, died of cancer nine years ago.
Ella Olson, a teacher at Bryant Elementary in Superior, will take over for Kosey in July. She formerly taught at Edison Charter Schools in Duluth and has experience coaching at St. Scholastica, Bemidji State, UMD and Duluth Marshall.