Duluth sports legend Steve 'Pokey' Trachsel and his wife, Cathie, die in California car crash

Steve "Pokey" Trachsel helped pitch Duluth to the Little League World Series in 1963 before starring in hockey at Duluth Cathedral High School and for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.

Steve "Pokey" Trachsel circles behind the net in this undated photo from his time on the men's hockey team at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Trachsel, one of the best players in Bulldogs hockey history, died in a car crash earlier this month in California.
University of Minnesota archives

DULUTH — Steve “Pokey” Trachsel and his wife, Cathie, have died in a three-vehicle crash in Southern California. Both were 71 years old.

According to authorities at the California Highway Patrol and the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, the accident involved two semi-trucks and the Trachsels' vehicle. It occurred during a dust storm around 3:32 p.m. on April 3 on Highway 86 near Salton City, California.

The Trachsels — who spent half the year in the Duluth area and half of the year in Tucson, Arizona — were pronounced dead at the scene.

Pokey Trachsel was a standout hockey player at Duluth Cathedral High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, as well as a member of the Duluth Central All-Stars who reached the Little League World Series in 1963.

Cathie Trachsel left her mark on the community working with families in the Northland through USDA’s Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) and Duluth Head Start. She was passionate about nutrition, said the Trachsels' three daughters — Lisa, Allie and Lindsay.


Pokey and Cathie both graduated from UMD, with Cathie also earning a master’s in education. They were also classmates at Cathedral, graduating in 1969, though they didn’t begin dating until after high school.

Steve "Pokey" Trachsel and Cathie Trachsel sit along the water in this undated photo, courtesy of the Trachsel family. Steve and Cathie Trachsel died earlier this month in a car crash in California. Both were 71 years old.
Contributed / Trachsel family

“When they met, it was after they had both graduated from Cathedral. They knew each other because our dad played hockey with our mom’s brothers,” Lindsay Trachsel said. “They were at some party, and we always heard my dad kept her out of trouble, because when the cops showed up, he said, ‘She’s with me,’ and that was when they started dating.”

Pokey Trachsel led the Duluth Cathedral Hilltoppers to four consecutive Catholic school state championships from 1966-69, and was declared one of Minnesota’s 100 greatest boys hockey players by Minnesota Boys Hockey Hub in 2011, coming in at No. 20. Totaling 12 points in three games at the 1969 state tournament, Pokey Trachsel landed on his third-straight all-tournament team while the Hilltoppers captured a fifth-straight state title for the school.

As a Bulldog, Pokey Trachsel posted 90 points in 130 games from 1969-1973, including five goals on Nov. 17, 1972, in an 11-5 win over Lake Superior State to open UMD’s Christmas City of the North Tournament. That was his first season at wing after three seasons as a defenseman. His five goals against the Lakers are still tied for the program record for goals in a single game.

"You have to have the bounces go right to get five goals,” Pokey Trachsel told the News Tribune in February 2011 after Mike Connolly became the second Bulldog to score five goals in a game. “That's something you never expect; it's really out of the ordinary.”

Pokey Trachsel can still be found in the UMD record books for penalty minutes, as well. The 103 minutes on 44 penalties over 32 games during his sophomore season of 1970-71 is tied for 10th most in a single season while the 124 career penalties for 274 minutes ranks eighth all-time at UMD.

Pokey Trachsel first made a name for himself on the Duluth sports scene in 1963 as a pitcher and shortstop for the Duluth squad that finished third in the Little League World Series. The 12-year-old left-handed curveball specialist struck out nine batters and hit a home run in the third-place game.

"That was pretty good for a northern team that just played ball in the spring and summer," Pokey Trachsel told the News Tribune back in August 2013. "We didn't know what to expect. We just kept winning, and every game was a one-run game. It was pretty exciting for us kids."


A picture of the Duluth Central Little League team
A picture of the Duluth Central Little League team that finished third at the 1963 Little League World Series hangs on the side of the Essentia Duluth Heritage Sports Center in Duluth.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Trachsels' daughters said their parents enjoyed traveling and going on adventures, whether it was seeing the world before their kids were born, or traveling across the country to see the grandchildren in recent years.

Wherever they went, Allie Trachsel said she always remembered people asking the family, upon hearing they were from Duluth, “Oh, do you know Pokey Trachsel?” Their dad loved playing coy, until finally introducing himself, she said.

“He was a one-of-a-kind human, like nobody you’ve ever met,” Lisa Trachsel said. “There is literally no one else like him.”

“I don’t think anyone can ever talk about him without laughing,” added Lindsay Trachsel. “He’s just a character.”

As news of Pokey and Cathie’s death began to circulate, their daughters said they’ve received an outpouring of support not just from all of those who knew their famous father, but from those whose lives were impacted by their mother.

One of those who reached out to share stories about their mother was Pam Rees, who worked with Cathie Trachsel at Duluth Head Start. Her family also had a cabin on Island Lake, like the Trachsels. Rees described Cathie as a critical thinker who she was grateful to have on her team.

“Cathie was so important to our program for a myriad of reasons, but for me, she had the best interests of children and families in her heart and mind,” Reese said in a statement she shared with the Trachsel daughters. “She always had my back, even when we disagreed. She could have done anything, but she chose to work with a stellar group of people trying to do the right thing serving children and families.”

The Trachsel daughters are planning a full obituary for their parents, as well as a celebration of their lives at a later date.


A photo originally attached to this story was removed due to uncertainty over the identity of the subject. This story originally contained a misspelling of Allie Trachsel's name on second reference. It was most recently updated at 2 p.m. on April 18, 2023. It was originally posted at 6:08 p.m. on April 17. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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