Saturday’s 15-7 victory by the South team over the North squad at the inaugural Minnesota Football Showcase was Larry Thompson’s last game as a high school coach.
He left the door open just a hair when asked about it following the all-star game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Well, Mike (Grant) offered me a position as a ball boy at Eden Prairie, so we’ll see,” cracked Thompson, who announced his retirement from coaching last week. Thompson was an assistant coach and Grant the head coach for the South all-stars in Saturday’s game.
Three state championships and 259 victories over 38 years as a head coach mean a lot of well-wishers waiting to shake your hand when you leave the field for the final time, which is what Thompson did for about a half-hour after the game. His influence will be felt much longer than that.
“We’re very fortunate for the 12 years we had him at Lakeville South,” said South athletic director Neil Strader, who hired Thompson to coach football at the new school in 2005. “He definitely left his mark in this building.”
Thompson’s three state championship teams all were at Lakeville High School, now known as Lakeville North. He led South to the state playoffs in four of his first six years with the Cougars. Lakeville South played in the Class 5A championship game at the 2006 Prep Bowl, losing to Eden Prairie 21-14.
Switching schools might not have been as difficult for Thompson as some might assume, Strader said. For one thing, Lakeville South was closer to Thompson’s farm on the south edge of Lakeville.
“Larry always said in the early days of Lakeville South High School, when he would be asked that question, that the commute from the family farm was shorter, and one day he would ride a tractor in to work and prove it,” Strader said. “Obviously he was joking, but he’s in a Lakeville South family on the south edge of town.
“We didn’t have any seniors in the school that first year, but we had an exceptionally talented group of junior football players, and that might have factored into his decision. He thought he’d have a chance to follow those talented kids over to the new school and do something special with them, which he did.
“I think he saw Lakeville South as a new start, a new challenge, and a chance for him to do what he does best, which is relate to people and build programs,” Strader said.
Thompson taught math and was a longtime assistant basketball coach in Lakeville. He became Lakeville South’s interim boys basketball coach for the second half of the 2006-07 season, and the Cougars reached the state tournament.
Thompson said he thought one of his strengths was relating to students and building their confidence. It didn’t matter if a student was involved in sports. Today, Lakeville High School alumnus Eric Bunkers is a structural engineer who owns his own company, but in the mid-1980s he said he was an aimless ninth-grader in Thompson’s algebra class at McGuire Junior High.
“The first half of the year for me was filled with horseplay, more interest in girls and general dereliction toward school,” Bunkers wrote in an email to Sun Thisweek. “During the second half of the school year he told me that I could easily step up my game in algebra class if I put my mind to it. ‘So stop goofing around,’ he told me one morning. He didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t have to, I heard him loud and clear because he made students feel confident.”
Thompson had the same effect on football players, according to one of the last to play for him, Lakeville South senior Eric Rousemiller.
Rousemiller played on the South team at the all-star game and said it was important to him to win it for Thompson. “I’ve been starting for his team for four years,” Rousemiller said. “He’s been like a second father to me, and to send him out with a win is super-meaningful for him, I think, and for me too. I always wish the best for my coaches.”