Northland loses gymnastics pioneer

Waterhouse, former Minnesota Duluth football and track athlete, made his mark on his family and community through his Gymnastics Academy.

Waterhouse, Mark_web.jpg
Mark Waterhouse

Former Duluth police chief Scott Lyons remembers being on a mission seven years ago when he went up to the Gymnastics Academy in Hermantown.

Lyons had heard talk that former Minnesota Duluth football teammate Mark Waterhouse wasn’t going to attend the 40th reunion of their Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship team, and Lyons, a captain on that team, would have no part of it.

“I told him, ‘Mark, we love you. Now just show up,’” Lyons recalled.

Waterhouse obliged, and as Lyons stood there at the academy, he couldn’t help but think the same way as so many others: How does a former UMD football and track athlete become a highly regarded gymnastics coach?

Like with so many other things in his life, Waterhouse accomplished that feat because he put his heart and soul into it.


Waterhouse, 65, died peacefully surrounded by family Nov. 9. He had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer in September 2016, and had “fought the good fight” and had “kept the faith,” as his obituary quoted 2 Timothy 4:7.

“Mark was so involved in our community,” Lyons said. “All kinds of kids got a chance to excel because of him, through his academy, which is pretty cool.

“I had talked to him not too long ago and I knew that he was hurting. I know his kids a little bit … it was awful.”

Waterhouse was born in Nashville, Tennessee on February 15, 1955, the oldest of three sons. The family eventually moved to Duluth where Mark attended Duluth Central.

According to his obit, Waterhouse sought treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago and even volunteered for four cancer trials, saying that “miracles would happen every day for him under their care for four extraordinary years.” He even participated in a half-marathon last year and finished the race, smiling.

Twin Cities based gymnastics judge Robin Ruegg posted Waterhouse’s obit on her Facebook page, writing, “For gymnastics friends, I am sorry to share that Mark Waterhouse has passed away. Condolences to his family and friends. Mark, I loved the times I had with you, your family and your gymnasts.”

Added Jennifer Frommelt Sampson: “So sad. What a great guy. I remember leaving funny notes in the clipboard he always had with him at meets. Always upbeat and happy.”

Lyons recalled Waterhouse the football player. Waterhouse played wide receiver and ran the hurdles and relays in track and field.


“He was fast as hell and was wiry,” Lyons said. “He was a sprinter. He was a tall, skinny guy, but he would stick his nose in there. He was fun to have on the team. Just a great guy, a great teammate. He loved football and just loved sports.”

That 1973 team included the likes of superstar Terry Egerdahl of Proctor and fellow all-conference selections John Casey at center, Mark Johnson at defensive back, Eric Kaiser at fullback and Mike Staum at defensive end.

It was a different era under legendary coach Jim Malosky, run middle, run left, run right, the proverbial 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

“I felt bad for those guys,” Lyons said of the team’s wide receivers. “We just didn’t throw the ball. You ran the ball until you couldn’t run the ball anymore. And then you ran some more. To be a wideout for Jim Malosky had to be a real challenge for those guys. You’re a tall, skinny guy and you’re playing offense and now you gotta block every friggin’ play, but those guys understood their role and did great at it. Everyone on that team loved Mark.”

In a way, Lyons isn’t surprised by the way Waterhouse’s life took a gymnastics twist. Waterhouse was a dad first and foremost, and if his kids got into something, he was going to learn everything about it.

“If you’re a football player and your daughters are playing soccer, you’re a soccer coach. That’s just the way it goes,” Lyons said. “It was cool to see the direction he took with his family. It was good stuff, and I’m proud of him, I’m proud of his legacy. Not many people get that legacy, of helping kids grow up into maturity. As time goes on, I’m sure people will remember him and all the good that he did.”

After graduating from UMD with degrees in art education, physical education and a coaching certification, Waterhouse studied architectural design and drafting at Dunwoody Institute. He became a licensed real estate broker, negotiating land transactions for Johnson Brothers Corporation.

Waterhouse is survived by, among others, Rebecca, his wife of 43 years, son, Matthew, and three daughters, Kara, Rachel, and Jaime.


The gym Waterhouse built for his daughters became the Gymnastics Academy, where Mark coached and mentored hundreds of youth in the Northland for 22 years. He also coached his children in soccer, basketball and track and traveled across the country to support their activities.

It was a true sports family, with gymnastics at the core.

That family extended beyond Waterhouse’s own children, as his obit attests: “In the words of his former gymnasts, ‘You were a second dad to us. You might think that after we all left, we moved on — but we will never ‘move on’ from the gymnastics life we lived. It is a piece of us forever, a point of pride. YOU changed us. While you were busy thinking you were just our coach, you were writing out a legacy that is being lived out in all corners of the country by strong, confident women who you helped mold.’”

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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