DECC Athletic Hall of Fame: Inductee Wirtanen was dedicated to his craft
Scott Wirtanen said his late father, William Wirtanen, was never one to chase accolades, but nonetheless, accolades found his father.
William Wirtanen, a longtime coach and athletic director at Mesabi Range Community College who passed away in 2015, will be inducted posthumously into the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday. He's already a member of the Bemidji State, Mesabi Range, Minnesota Community College Athletic Association and National Junior College Athletic Association Wrestling Coaches halls of fame.
That last hall of fame has always stood out to Scott Wirtanen, because his father never wrestled.
"He never coached wrestling, never refereed wrestling," Scott Wirtanen said. "I thought that spoke of his professionalism, his integrity, his character and how he approached his job. He took a sport that he was asked to go and serve for and, in the end, they honored him."
William Wirtanen was on the board of directors at USA Wrestling for 26 years. He also was named Chief de Mission at the Junior Pan American Wrestling Championships in Ecuador in 1977. Those were two of the many associations Scott's father dedicated his time to during his 80-plus years, traveling the globe to do so.
He served as NJCAA president from 1996-99, on the USA World University Games staff in Yugoslavia in 1987 and the U.S. representative on the FISU International Control Commission at the World University Games from 1996-99.
In addition to USA Wrestling, William Wirtanen served on the board of directors for USA Basketball, the U.S. Collegiate Sports Council and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
William Wirtanen's role as athletic director at Mesabi Range — known as Virginia Junior College when he attended and first started as AD — for more than 30 years opened doors for him to serve beyond his hometown of Virginia. Everyone recognized William Wirtanen's dedication, leadership, honesty and integrity and wanted him to represent them, Scott Wirtanen said.
"He had a love for athletics. Early in his athletic career, some of the coaches at Virginia High School had a big influence on him — Art Stock and Bill Monat," Scott Wirtanen said. "He was a guy that when he wanted to do something, he wanted to do it right, do it thoroughly and do it to the best of his ability. The drive and dedication was really what he was every day."
William Wirtanen was a three-sport athlete at Roosevelt High School in Virginia, participating in football, basketball and track and field. He took part in basketball and track at Virginia Junior College before doing the same at Bemidji State.
After earning his masters degree from Southern Illinois, Wirtanen went on to teach and coach at Gilbert High School. He was hired by Virginia Junior College in 1966 to coach men's basketball and track and field, and then named athletic director in 1967. He continued to coach — even adding tennis to his repertoire — and led the basketball program to a school-record 204 victories.
Upon his retirement in 2001, Mesabi Range dedicated its gymnasium in William Wirtanen's honor. Two scholarships are given each year in Wirtanen's name to Mesabi Range students.
The school was a special place to Wirtanen, and he was a special person to the college.
"Bill's real achievements and true legacy are the countless lives he touched throughout his many years as an educator," Scott Wirtanen said, reading a passage of what the staff at Mesabi Range wrote for the dedication ceremony of the William Wirtanen Gymnasium. "He has always carried himself with the utmost professionalism and courtesy, and has endeared himself to any who have had the good fortune to know him."
What: 27th DECC Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony
Where: DECC Horizon Room
Inductees: Bob Davidson, Willard Ikola, Tom Kurvers, Lori Ogren, Mark Sertich, William Wirtanen
Schedule: Social hour, 6 p.m.; dinner, 7 p.m.; awards presentations, 7:30 p.m.
Guest speaker: Olympic ski jumper Jim Denney
Tickets: $40, DECC ticket office (218-727-4344)