May 24, 2017

A husband, a father, a friend and teacher, Hall of Fame coach Don Oleson left a lasting mark in Carroll.

Oleson, 68, died on Saturday following a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer, leaving many in the Carroll Tiger family, with heavy hearts.

In 33 years as head girls basketball coach in Carroll, Oleson compiled an overall record of 432-285, including a 5-on-5 record of 228-81. Oleson led the Tigers to five state tournament appearances, including climbs to the Class 3A championships in 1996 and 1997. He retired from teaching and coaching in 2006. Carroll High senior Shellie Mosman was named Miss Iowa Basketball that year, becoming the second player for Oleson to earn the honor. Sara (Stribe) Vander Sanden earned the honor in 1998.

Oleson was inducted into the Iowa Girls Coaches Association Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. He credited his players for the honor.

“I have been blessed with a lot of talented girls who have played for CHS, and they are the ones who made it happen,” Oleson told the Carroll Daily Times Herald back then.

Basketball was a life-size part of Oleson’s story. A business education teacher at Carroll High School, he started the Carroll girls basketball program in the fall of 1973. His wife, Shari, said coaching basketball was always something her husband wanted to do. But basketball wasn’t something Shari wanted or even enjoyed.

“I was never an athlete. I played a little golf,” she joked during Oleson’s induction into the Hall of Fame. “My friends laugh because they were into basketball, but I’m the one who married the coach.”

After watching more than 700 games her husband coached, Shari Oleson said she too found a place in her heart for basketball.

“I love it through him,” she said, remembering the days of hauling their two children to game after game.

Oleson’s son, Jeff, said this week, he and his sister, Suzi, always knew how important the Tiger teams were to their dad.

“We knew he valued his time with them,” Jeff Oleson said. “It was his thing, and we supported him the best we could.

Unfortunately, my sister and I couldn’t ever be athletic enough to play at a competitive level, I guess it skipped a generation.”

Don Oleson’s teams were consistently top conference contenders. He coached some of the state’s all-time leading scorers, and the stingy full-court defenses his teams played were feared by opponents.

Keith Petersen, a physical education teacher at Fairview elementary in Carroll, spent 33 years on the bench as an assistant coach for Oleson.

“He was a great friend of mine. and I always admired the way he was known and liked by coaches around the state,” Petersen said this week. “Everyone knew ‘Ole’. I hold onto and treasure all the good times we had together because the community of Carroll just lost a good one. They don’t make coaches like that anymore.”

Peterson recalls the state championship memories, and the conference titles their teams won.

“Coach Oleson worked extremely hard to keep his girls up there,” Petersen said of contending for conference titles year after year. “He was a relentless scouter. We watched film together for hours on end because he never wanted to go into a contest unprepared.”

Sara (Stribe) Vander Sanden, whose father Keith Stribe coached the Carroll boys basketball teams alongside Oleson for years, said Ole was fair, patient and kind.

“He genuinely cared about everyone that was part of the program,” she said. “He was a players’ coach and always put us first.  Ole had a way of getting his athletes to believe in themselves.  Communication with him was a two-way street.  He was always interested in what we, as players, saw as opportunities in games.  As a player, he empowered each of us to make decisions on the court, which led to a lot of personal and team growth.”

Vander Sanden said Oleson’s love for coaching kids and his special bond with Petersen, proved key in a career that spanned more than three decades.

“Ole and Pete were loyal to each other and had complementary styles,” she said. “Together, they both positively impacted an incredible amount of student-athletes over the years.”

Shellie (Mosman) Haluska, who went on to play at Iowa State, said Oleson’s love for the game was endless.

“His wheels were always turning, trying to come up with new strategies, better game plans, or ways to make his players perform to the best of their abilities,” she said. “He cared so deeply about his teams and dedicated his life to the program’s success.”

Haluska said undoubtedly Oleson’s love for his players and the game is what kept him coaching so long.

“He truly loved the kids that played for him,” she said. “It didn’t matter if you were the lead scorer or the last one on the bench, he made us all feel included, important and special. He was one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever met.”

Kim (McCaffrey) Davis said she’ll always remember Oleson’s orange basketball tie that he wore on game days, along with his quick wit, his sense of humor and sarcasm, his angry face that meant you better get to work.

“He taught us how to work hard, how to be aggressive, how to be humble, how to be committed, how to get up and start again if things didn’t go our way, and how to have a good time along the way,” said Davis, who is in her 15th season as an assistant volleyball coach at the University of Northern Iowa.“It was an honor to play for him and coach Pete. They pushed us to be the very best that we could be. They pushed us for excellence in everything thing that we did.  One of the biggest things that I learned in high school, and especially from Coach Ole is that if you want something. you have to work hard to get it.  It would never be handed to you, so if you want something you need to fight for it.  That is one lesson that I carry with me each and every day.”

Amber Reed, a member of the Tigers’ back-to-back state championship teams, said she can picture Oleson taping her ankles and talking to her about what she needed to do to help lead the team that day.

She said Oleson coached firm, and was always confident in what needed to be done to win.

“He had this way about him that you just didn’t want to give up,” she said. “And when something great was done, he gave you the best smile.”

Reed said she believes Oleson truly loved the game.

“He enjoyed coaching with Pete, and I hope it gave him a deep, meaningful purpose to know how many lives he touched during his coaching seasons and how he impacts all of us still,” she said. “He had a gift, and we were all lucky recipients of his gift.”

Kim (Beckman) Renning, a 1986 graduate of Carroll, who holds the school’s 6-on-6 scoring record, remembers Oleson for always having an encouraging word.

“He was competitive, his practices were very well organized, and he was just a very good coach,” she said. “It means a lot to be a part of his legacy, following in the footsteps of the players before me, and hopefully inspiring younger players who played after I did.”

Heidi Conrad, who didn’t see a lot of playing time while a member of Oleson’s girls basketball teams, said she’ll always be thankful for the opportunity Oleson gave her.  

“I was continually given the opportunity to be a part of the team,” she said. “His legacy runs deep in many hearts, especially mine. He taught perseverance, sportsmanship, commitment, and to let ourselves soak in the glory.”

Denny O’Grady, longtime sports writer at the Carroll Daily Times Herald, described Oleson as a fine coach, but an even better person.

“He was always very helpful to me when writing up the Tigers in the Carroll Times Herald,” O’Grady said. “It was never about him, and always about his players and students.”

Dick Hogan, retired longtime Carroll High School guidance counselor, and Oleson arrived in Carroll the same year and built a friendship that lasted more than 40 years.

“I just don’t believe he’s gone yet,” Hogan said, describing his friend as a very honest and caring man. “He was a tough old nut, really.”

Hogan said Oleson, who taught personal finance and accounting at CHS, was a very organized person.

“He had everything down to a ‘T,’” he said. “He always planned our golf trips and everything was planned — the time, the courses, how many holes we were going to play and handicaps, just everything he had planned out.”

Oleson kept Hogan and his buddies up to date with the news.

“If we didn’t know something that was happening in town, all we had to do was ask Ole, because Ole would know,” Hogan said. “He was just very involved in everything going on.”

Hogan, who often attended sporting events with Oleson, said he’ll miss sitting with his friend in the bleachers.

“He used to call and ask if I was going to the ballgame, and I’d tell him I’d be there,” Hogan said. “I’ll sure miss that.”