When longtime Yankton High School football coach Max Hawk left the field after his last high school victory, a state title win at the DakotaDome in 1994, few were talking about him setting a record for coaching victories in South Dakota.
But they are now. Because O’Gorman coach Steve Kueter, in his 33rd year coaching the Knights, can tie the record with a win against those very same Yankton Bucks on Friday at Crane-Youngworth Field in Yankton, Hawk’s 284 coaching wins are seeing the light of day to a degree they haven’t for a very long time.
When you’re breaking your own record every week, the shine wears off even big numbers. But 21 years after the fact, Hawk, who regularly attends Bucks games and will be at the O’Gorman-Yankton contest at Crane-Youngworth Field on Friday night, still doesn’t think it was any big deal.
“Records are made to be broken,” he said. “I haven’t had a coaching victory in 21 years. To tell you the truth, I wonder why it’s taken so long. When Steve sets the record, somebody else will break that, too.”
Coaches are typically reluctant to talk about personal accomplishments. And they’re certainly not going to say much when acknowledging the possibility of a historic win could be interpreted as assuming it’s going to happen this week. No matter how rich the irony, they’ll steer away from that.
“We’re going to try to get a win and there is nothing else involved,” Kueter said. “Getting a win against Yankton in Yankton has never been easy for anyone.”
The Knights and the Bucks have a robust history. Six times the schools have faced each other in the 11AA title game with four of those contests taking place in the first five years of South Dakota’s high school football playoff system. Kueter was an assistant for Bob Burns for the first two of those title games but was head coach for the next four.
They’re in different classes now but the wins still count. The Knights are 3-2 and ranked No. 3 in Class 11AAA and the Bucks are 3-2 and ranked No. 3 in Class 11AA. Kueter sees a matchup of size vs. speed, something longtime high school football fans would note has been a feature in many O’Gorman-Yankton games over the years.
“It’s two evenly matched teams,” said Kueter, whose Knights defeated Watertown 42-10 last week. “Size is an issue for us and they’re huge. They have linemen who are 290 and 270 and I can tell you, we don’t have linemen who weigh 290 and 270. They’re huge and it seems like that is always the case. We’ve been making a living on our speed so it’s a good matchup in that respect.”
Kueter was one of the speakers at Hawk’s retirement party in Yankton 21 years ago. The O’Gorman coach had been on the job since 1983 and was more than a decade into his time with the Knights when Hawk was stepping down.
The former Yankton coach began his career at Scotland in 1957 after graduating from Northern State. He coached 38 years all together with 12 state championships, counting the years where final rankings determined a mythical champion. He won 18 conference championships, earned national coach of the year honors in 1986 and was the South Dakota coach of the year five times.
“I have great deal of respect for Max,” Kueter said. “His record says a lot about him and about Yankton. When you talk about this kind of thing you’re talking about players. It speaks of the quality of Max’s program and hopefully the quality of the O’Gorman program.”
Yankton looks to deny Kueter win No. 284