Coach’s legend enshrined at Pat Feely Field
The spring of 1994 was crazy for Burnsville High School and its softball team.
On April 25 an arsonist torched the school, causing more than $15 million in damage, forcing relocation of classes and incinerating the softballers’ gear.
Playing with uniforms and equipment borrowed from other Lake Conference teams, the Pat Feely-coached squad reached the state tournament. Its first game was on graduation night. After hustling six seniors through the ceremony, the team raced to Mankato, where tournament officials had postponed Burnsville’s game until 9 p.m.
“Believe it or not, it was a hell of a distraction,” Feely says now. “We lost 5-2 to Rochester Mayo, and they were a good team. I take nothing away from them.”
Burnsville took the consolation championship, though, announcing a new era under a coach who would lead the Blaze to consecutive state titles in 2004 and 2005.
Feely left the softball program after the 2010 season, but his imprint will remain. The District 191 School Board voted March 14 to name the varsity softball field Pat Feely Field.
It joins BHS facilities the Thomas B. Mraz Center for the Performing Arts, Pates Stadium and Hansen Field, and Rahn Elementary’s Jerry Kivi Library, as District 191 sites named for people.
The son of legendary St. Thomas College basketball and baseball coach Tom Feely, Pat played both sports for his father. He taught social studies at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis for 14 years, beginning in 1967. Feely later served eight years as principal of Minneapolis’ Franklin Junior High and eight years as principal of Minneapolis North High.
“They wouldn’t let you coach and be a principal, so I started coaching out in Burnsville, where I’ve lived for 40 years,” said Feely, whose daughter, Crista, pitched for the 1994 state tournament team. “I started coaching basically my own children’s teams and traveling teams and AAU teams. And then I began coaching for the high school. Vic Berra was the athletic director at the time. In ’93 Vic asked me to take over the softball program. I did do that.”
Youth coach Brian Wester of Eagan had two daughters go through Burnsville Athletic Club and Burnsville High School softball: Erin, who graduated in 2000, and Lauren, a four-year starter at third base who was on the back-to-back championship teams.
“(Feely) has what I would call an unbelievable knack to connect with younger athletes,” Wester said. “It’s just a respect thing. And it’s him laying down kind of what the expectations are of a team and what’s expected of the players, and everybody being on the same page. And then holding the players accountable.
“To someone else looking in, it would look like he was kind of rigid. But the fact is, that’s exactly what young athletes need – a predictable, regimented routine. That formula worked very well for him. The players and the parents respected that.”
In 2002 Feely started seven freshmen on his varsity team. The move was controversial, but Feely was always determined to start the strongest players, Wester said.
“Sometimes pipelines of players ebb and flow,” Wester said. “And he made a decision to go on a youth movement” with a group of players who’d had success in traveling softball.
“When they were freshmen, we went 10-0 before we got beat,” Feely recalled. “We took third in the section that year.”
The next year brought “a little sophomore slump,” when the girls “weren’t surprising anybody.”
Then came 2004 and 2005 to seal the Feely legend, which also included six Lake Conference championships and three section titles.
After 2005 he handed the program off to his assistant, Hillary Hansen, a former Blaze player who remains the head coach.
But Feely wasn’t finished. He coached District 191’s junior high softball program to an 87-5 record before leaving the program in 2010.
“I always kind of wondered how a middle-aged, ex-varsity coach would work with junior high kids,” said Wester, who was Feely’s assistant coach for three of those seasons. “I was absolutely amazed at his ability to get their focus and get the most out of those kids.”
Feely, whose coaching career spans 46 years, still isn’t finished.
“This winter I started up again with the girls’ basketball program” in District 191. “They had me working with the ninth-grade team,” said Feely, who has coached football and tennis as well as softball and basketball. “I’ll probably continue to do that. My goal is to coach 50 years.”
Feely remains a Blaze softball booster and mentor, known for the time he spends on field maintenance at the school’s two-diamond softball complex.
“I like to drag the fields for practices so a bad hop doesn’t come up and hit them in the face because the field’s too rough,” Feely said. “I do a little mowing and a little of this and a little of that so that everything looks real nice.”
John Gessner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sunthisweek.