Long-time Hecla track and cross country coach Terry Ulmer was inducted into the South Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Hecla Coach Hall Of Famer
When long-time Hecla v teacher and coach Terry Ulmer graduated from Fullerton, ND, High School in 1963, becoming a teacher was the farthest thing from his mind.
He planned to join the U.S. Navy, but then came the first twist in his life that changed everything. He was offered a scholarship to play football and basketball at the University of North Dakota – Ellendale Branch.
“I didn’t really have much for plans,” admitted Ulmer. “I majored in physical education and business but went to college to play sports.”
Ulmer had experienced athletic success at Fullerton. He was a member of a class of 21, the largest in the history of the school, and his football team lost just one game in four years. The basketball team qualified for the state tournament his sophomore year and lost in the regional finals his junior and senior seasons.
So when he had a chance to continue his career at the college level he jumped at the opportunity.
Fast forward to a week ago Saturday – 56 years later – and Ulmer was inducted into the South Dakota Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the crowning achievement of his 35-year coaching career.
“It was kind of a shock,” said Ulmer. “Usually when you coach in a small school you kind of get overlooked a little bit. It’s a pretty big honor and I never expected it.”
Ulmer was one of seven state coaches inducted into the Hall of Fame in Sioux Falls. Other inductees included Gene Danielsen, Salem; Laverne Diede, Freeman; Lowell Gilbertson, Arlington; Don Lhotak, Bonesteel-Fairfax; Tom Main, Chester; and Buzz Stevenson, Huron and Dakota State University.
His path from Ellendale to Hecla to the SD Hall of Fame was definitely a unique one.
“I never ever thought about being a teacher or coach until my senior year in college,” said Ulmer. “I needed 15 hours to graduate, and my advisor said I could either practice teach and have a teaching degree or get a non-teaching degree. That was a no-brainer. If I had a teaching degree I would at least have something to fall back on.”
Ulmer was assigned to practice teach in Hecla.
“Bob Trapp was the principal and basketball coach and kind of took me under his wing and made me feel at home,” remembered Ulmer. “I also had the opportunity to work under Don Quimby in football. I never really had a desire to coach until I practice taught, and they made it look like it would be fun. Then the business teacher was leaving, and he asked me if I wanted the job. I have never applied for a job in my life.”
But one more interesting twist remained before Ulmer would become aligned with his career path.
“When I signed the contract I knew I was going to be the assistant football and head basketball coach, but all of a sudden when I looked at the contract I saw that I was also to be the track coach. I had never run a track meet in my life, and we didn’t even have the sport in high school. It was a new learning experience.”
Ulmer also started the sport of cross country at Hecla.
“One fall we had four boys not out for football that would go out and run four or five miles after school to get in shape for basketball. I told them that they could just as well run cross country, and we won the Lake Region Conference that year. We weren’t sanctioned so couldn’t qualify for state, but after that I talked the school board into starting the program.”
A few years later he started the girls cross country program as well.
“That was when cross country and girls basketball was at the same time in the fall,” said Ulmer. “I went and talked to the girls basketball coach to see if we could convince a few more girls to go out for cross country. I told him that all he would have to do would be to work on his offense and defense and I would do the training. We had 23 girls out for basketball that year and 18 ran cross country, and the girls just kind of blew everybody away in the fourth quarter because they all were in good shape.”
Ulmer’s teams experienced plenty of success, winning state girls state cross country championships in 1989 and 1999 and finishing as state runner-up in 1988. Hecla was the Lake Region Conference girls cross country champion 17 times and won 11 Region 1B titles. The boys teams won 18 league titles and two regional championships.
On the track and field front Ulmer’s squads claimed seven girls and five boys LRC titles. In Region 1B the girls won four championships and the boys took five.
For his efforts, Ulmer was named the South Dakota High School Coaches Association Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year in 1989 and the Region 1B Coach of the Year in 1990. He earned Area 1 Coach of the Year honors in 1999, and was the Region 1B Athletic Director of the Year in 1998-99.
Ulmer liked what Hecla had to offer.
“I grew up in a small school and liked to hunt and fish and trap, and I had that opportunity in Hecla. I did apply for other positions at Oakes and Britton and was offered jobs but turned them down. I just enjoyed the people here and enjoyed the school system.”
During his 35 years in Hecla Ulmer served as business teacher, athletic director for 34 years, principal for seven years, coached track and field and cross country for 35 years, and coached football and basketball for five years. He also served as a starter and official for track and field and cross country for 45 years, hanging up his starting gun in 2013.
He still resides in Hecla with his wife, Diana. The couple has a summer home on Lake Oahe where Ulmer enjoys fishing, and during the winter months he spends time in his wood shop in Hecla.
Ulmer is quick to credit his athletes with any success he had.
“I had some pretty good kids. Coaching is a lot of hard work, but when you have good kids willing to listen to you it makes your job easy. The most rewarding thing for me was just seeing the kids be successful and making it fun for them. I would hope they would describe me as a caring coach that tried to make everything fair for everybody.”
Reflecting back on how he came to call Hecla his hometown and how he spent over three decades coaching a sport he knew nothing about when he began his 35-year career, Ulmer is a bit amazed.
“It’s funny how little things in life can make a lot of difference.”