By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They gather — well-wishers that have worked with Dave Stead, who is saying good bye after 32 years on the job, which leaves room for some veteran levity.

“They said you were cutting edge right away, you eliminated the peach basket,” WCCO’s Mike Max said.

“Well, and we put a hole in the bottom. That made a difference as well, because then it could drop right through,” Stead said.

That’s part of his signature — care deeply about the high school experience, don’t take yourself too serious.

“Getting to know him through the Minnesota State High School League, through officiating down here at the tournaments and then the last four years on the board of directors, you just find out what he’s like,” MSHSL Board of Directors member Paul McDonald said. “Just a class guy with a very, very wonderful sense of humor.”

What he’s done is carve out an identity for Minnesota high school sports by making it not about the championships, but the experience. That’s his goal.

“That sometimes I think is way overrated. I think the participation part is what it’s all about,” Stead said. “When I was growing up, it was a whole different era, but we all got a chance to play. We just got together and enjoyed what it was like to be a kid, to be a part of a group of kids, that just had a good time. And now sometimes the pressure is too great, I think, and people begin to drop away.”

Along the way Minnesota has made its mark nationally. One of Stead’s initiatives: Taking adaptive athletics and folding it into the league, a victory that supports his belief in participation.

“It means an opportunity for every kid who walks through the front door of a school to have an opportunity to participate in a sport of some kind,” Stead said. “Twenty-five years ago when Ed Prohofsky said this is something we think we need to do and we’d love the High School League to do it, we jumped at it in a heartbeat. And no other state in the country does what we do or has ever done what we do.”

His goal is to be wind beneath the wings of Minnesota high school sports. That the win is the number of people who actually play.

“He’s the face of the High School League. For him, obviously it’s a good thing to retire,” former official Frank White said. “I think for the state of Minnesota, for high school student athletes, families, I think they don’t really have an appreciation really to know how much Dave has done.”

Eric Martens steps into his role. He was a student in New Ulm when Stead was a principal and a mentor.

“Dave Stead is just, he’s an amazing individual in terms of engaging others,” Martens said. “He makes everybody feel like they know him well and he knows them well and he builds off of that relationship. Obviously he’s just incredibly knowledgeable about education-based athletics and activities.”

Leadership through consistency, that’s what this journey has been about. To find ways for athletics to matter without overselling it’s value.

“Ninety-seven percent of those kids that don’t play in college are going to go to some community and they’re going to have kids of their own,” Stead said. “We want them to know what it’s like to have an education-based experience, to be a participant and that’s really what our goal is all about.”

Recognizing how much sport means to schools, and to people.

“Because we see the smiles on their faces. We see the hugs from the kids and their coaches and their fans and their families and that’s what it’s all about. To try and provide the best championship experience at the high school level, that they’ll never, ever know again,” Stead said.

And being able to say goodbye on a high note, having affected lives that will never realize it. And that’s been a biggest win.

“Dave Stead’s one of the all-time good guys in this world. Dave never takes credit for anything, he’s always looking to make other people feel good. He’s just an all-around good guy and he loves the state high school league, he loves students,” former Henry Sibley Athletic Director Dean Verdoes said. “What a guy.”

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