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Wayne Erickson utilized his skills as an industrial arts teacher to add a personal touch to the end-of-the-season banquets for the girls basketball and softball teams he coached.

Using wood that he harvested, he crafted plaques for players’ awards and then dried them in his kiln.

“Coach Erickson was very committed to his athletes,” said University of St. Thomas women’s basketball coach Ruth Sinn, who played for Erickson at North St. Paul High School. “He was a woodcarver, and every year he would create these elaborate plaques for each of us to remember the season and our journey together.

“He would present these to us at our banquet. They were beautiful, and I still have them today.”

Erickson, who taught and coached at North St. Paul for 28 years and is a member of the Minnesota Girls’ Basketball Coaches Association and the Minnesota Softball Coaches Association halls of fame, died Oct. 31 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Erickson, who was in assisted living in his hometown of Starbuck, Minn., was 80.

“Coach Erickson always was such a positive influence. If you visited with him about basketball you would always see his blue eyes sparkling with his true joy in being able to be involved in this great game,” said Sinn. “He went the extra mile for all of us athletes. A wonderful caring man who put his athletes first to help them grow through this great game of basketball.”

Sinn said she has applied lessons she learned from Erickson in her own coaching career.

“He taught me as a coach that your players come first, said Sinn, “and I have tried to model this within my own coaching throughout my career.”

Erickson was born to Mabel and Herbert Erickson on Sept. 23, 1940, in Starbuck. He grew up on the family farm and played four sports at Starbuck High School. At Moorhead State (now Minnesota State University Moorhead), he played basketball and started his coaching career as a senior by coaching the Dragons’ junior varsity team.

After graduation, he began his high school teaching and coaching career at Wanamingo, Minn. After five years at Wanamingo, he spent one year at Lakeville High School before moving to North St. Paul.

He was the first softball and girls’ basketball coach at North St. Paul. He directed the Polars softball team to four state tournaments, winning the Class 2A state title in 1984. As the Polars girls basketball coach, he led two teams to the state tournament.

“Wayne was a pioneer coach who believed in the fairness of breaking barriers and opening doors for the young women in his care as a coach,” said former Minnesota State High School League associate director Dorothy McIntyre. “Many are standing today on his shoulders.”

In addition to coaching high school softball and basketball, Erickson coached AAU basketball. In 1992, he coached the North Tartan 13U girls team to the national championship. That team included future WNBA players Coco Miller, Kelly Miller and Maren Walseth.

“I remember him fondly for teaching my teammates and me,” said Walseth. “He had a calm demeanor with us and patiently taught young teenage girls — talk about a saint! He had high expectations and was stern when he needed to be, but he really came from a place of positivity and encouragement. In many ways my experience on coach Erickson’s teams laid the foundation for my basketball career.”

Erickson is survived by sons Jeff, of Rosemount, and John, of Elko/New Market, and daughter Jennifer Hanson of Lakeville; seven granddaughters, three great-grandchildren, one brother and three sisters. Services have been held.

Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719