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College softball: Former UWS, Esko coach Plachta dies at 66

Roger Plachta led the Wisconsin-Superior softball to its first three NCAA tournament appearances and coached Esko to the Class A title in 1998.

Roger Plachta
Former Wisconsin-Superior softball coach Roger Plachta talks to his players during his tenure with the Yellowjackets. Plachta died this weekend at 66.
Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com
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SUPERIOR — Three years ago, former South Ridge activities director Tony DeLeon was in a bind.

It was 72 hours before the softball season started and his team was without a coach.

DeLeon said he ran into Steve Jezierski outside Kwik Trip and Jezierski told him he might know someone interested — Roger Plachta.

“I immediately went into the office and called him and he said he’d be interested,” DeLeon said. “We got him to come in for an interview, did all the paperwork, yadda, yadda and boom, by Monday he was at practice.”

Plachta not only coached the Panthers in 2019, he guided the Panthers to the first state tournament for a girls team other than cross country or track. South Ridge beat traditional powers Carlton and Cherry on the way to the section title.

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“By bringing those girls to the state tournament, he got that class motivated and believing in themselves that they could compete at a higher level,” DeLeon said.

Plachta, 66, died last weekend but he leaves a lasting impact on softball throughout the Twin Ports area. As the coach of Wisconsin-Superior from 2000 to 2018, Plachta led the Yellowjackets to their first three appearances in the NCAA tournament. He also won a Class A state championship as the coach at Esko in 1998.

“Roger, of course, was a character,” Jezierski said. “There was not anyone involved with the game of fastpitch softball who did not know him. We played fastpitch softball back in the heyday of the sport locally and evolved as a coach — and was actually a fabulous coach. Probably the best game manager I’ve ever been around. If there was a one-run game to be won, his team was going to win it.”

DeLeon said he saw Plachta’s coaching prowess firsthand in his only season at South Ridge.

“I had told my principal if we get this guy, if it’s a close game, we’re going to win,” DeLeon said. “I think the last couple of games were won by one run.”

Jezierski said the state championship run at Esko was a turning point for Plachta and softball in the area. During the 1998 state tournament, Plachta started learning about summer and travel softball programs, eventually starting the program here.

“All these kids who travel in the summer, it goes all the way back to Roger,” Jezierski said. “Roger joked about how he would put nine or 10 kids in his small vehicle without floorboards. He said, ‘We looked like the Flintstones going down the road.’”

In his later years, Plachta dealt with a number of health issues and as a result coached just one year at South Ridge.

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Jezierski said his passion for the city of Superior and athletics in the community was limitless. Born in Superior, he also graduated from Superior High School and UWS.

“He loved that city, he loved Superior Senior, he loved UWS,” Jezierski said. “He was loyal, he was devoted and it mattered to him whether the Yellowjackets won in one sport or another — it didn’t have to be his sport. That always stood out to me, how devoted he was to Superior, its high school and its college.”

‘A softball junkie’

Mike Sylvester, who coached with Plachta at Esko and from 2001-2008 at UWS, said Plachta was a “perfectionist” but also someone who could teach anyone to play softball.

“He was really good at being a teaching coach, breaking down the sport and teaching the fundamentals of fielding, hitting and pitching,” Sylvester said. “He could teach anybody, whether they were brand new players or somebody that had been a softball player for 10 years. He was so good at analyzing the mechanics of the game and coming up with new ideas and new ways to approach things.”

Plachta was known for his “epic practice sessions,” according to Sylvester, encouraging his teams to repeat things until it became “second nature.”

“He was a softball junkie, that’s for sure,” Sylvester said. “We have a lot of great coaches here in the Duluth Area, but I don’t know if you could find anybody that is more passionate about their job than he was.”

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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