Coaching legend retires
Jackson’s wrestling teams won 14 state titles, 2 national championships
In 1995, Jim Jackson took over a wrestling program that might already have been the state’s best. In the years that followed, he helped take it to national prominence.
And now, with Apple Valley synonymous with wrestling excellence in Minnesota, Jackson is stepping away. He announced Tuesday he will retire from coaching after 32 seasons with the Eagles, the last 17 as head coach. He will continue to teach physical education at Falcon Ridge Middle School in Apple Valley.
Jackson, whose a 12-year-old daughter Taylor plays competitive tennis, cited a desire to spend more time with his family.
“His mom is still living in Iowa, and now he will have more time to see her,” Apple Valley High School athletic director Pete Buesgens said. “His daughter is entering junior high next year, and she’s big in the tennis world.
“I think he’s at a point where wrestling is still a passion, but there are other things in his life.”
Jackson said he’s been debating for several years when would be the best time to leave. In February, he stayed home while Apple Valley traveled to a weekend tournament so he could attend his daughter’s birthday party. He said he realized he would be able to walk away from coaching without regret.
“That was part of it,” he said. “When you’re in as many tournaments as we are, you’re on the road for a long time. I might leave Friday before my daughter woke up, and I wouldn’t see her again until Sunday morning.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with kids that weren’t my own, and I really enjoyed it. But now I need to spend more time with my own.”
He said the tipping point occurred several weeks ago when he drove his daughter to a tennis event in Rochester, and she remarked that they were getting to do something together that didn’t involve his coaching.
Jackson added, however, his daughter was opposed to him stepping down from the wrestling program. “She was proud of me for coaching,” he said.
His teams won 14 state championships, including the last seven Class AAA titles. He has a career record of 619-26-3, and his winning percentage of 95.8 is by far the highest in state history. He had 56 individual state champions during his tenure as head coach.
He’s only the second head wrestling coach Apple Valley High School has had. Bill Demaray was head coach from the school’s opening in 1976 until 1995. Demaray took one year off before Jackson asked him to return as an assistant coach, and he’s been on the staff ever since.
“At the time, I felt it was important for Jim to have his own space, go his own direction and do what he wanted to do,” Demaray said Wednesday. “When he asked me to come back, it didn’t take much persuasion. I was still very interested in coaching wrestling, just not as a head coach.”
Jackson had been an assistant on Demaray’s staff for 15 years, during which time the Eagles won six state championships.
“Coach Jackson was an integral part of the staff even before he became head coach,” said Chad Erikson, a four-time individual state champion for Apple Valley in the 1990s who remains with the program as a part-time assistant coach. “But during his time as head coach, the program went to a completely different level.
“When I wrestled in high school, to win a state championship, that was it. Now they’re contending for national championships.”
Apple Valley topped national high school rankings done by two wrestling websites in 2010 and 2011. The Eagles were third in the national rankings in 2012.
Erikson said Jackson’s retirement took him by surprise, but he could understand the reasoning.
“It’s a full-time job for coach Jackson and coach Demaray,” Erikson said. “There’s no off-season. In the summer, they’re trying to get kids to train, go to camps and wrestle in tournaments. To have a successful high school program, the coaches have to be all in. Whatever their stipend is for coaching, they’ve earned it and then some.”
The Eagles’ greatest success came at a time when other high schools were dropping the sport or consolidating their programs because of lack of participation. Yet Apple Valley always had large numbers on its teams.
“One of the key things is we had Jim teaching at Falcon Ridge and we used to have (assistant coach) Chad Clendening at Valley Middle School,” said Buesgens, who was an assistant wrestling coach before being named AVHS athletic director three years ago. “They were always talking to kids, telling them if they weren’t in another winter sport that they might want to give wrestling a try.
“Another big thing is, I’m not aware of the wrestling team ever cutting a kid. In wrestling, you can keep 100 kids, but you can’t do that in basketball and hockey. In wrestling, a kid knows if he works hard enough he’ll have a chance to be part of a team.”
Buesgens said Jackson’s preparation was legendary. He said the coach has a yellow notepad with projected lineups for 2015, even 2016, and if there was a gap in the lineup, Jackson would start talking to middle-school boys who might fill that spot in a few years.
Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after Jackson announced his retirement, Buesgens said he had received two applications from California and one from South Dakota. The school will accept applications for the coaching position until May 25.
Demaray said he expects the position will draw plenty of qualified applicants.
“Jim left the program in great shape,” he said. “There’s a great youth program, and the high school coaches are very involved in it. And the administration has always been very supportive.”
As meaningful as the championships are, Jackson said that isn’t the ultimate reward for high school coaches.
“I’m proudest of the fact that we taught kids how to work hard, and we helped them become good citizens as well as good wrestlers,” he said.