By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
ST. JAMES —
He’s a former marathon runner, a pretty good tennis coach and, as it turns out, a darn good athletic director.
Earlier this month St. James athletic director Les Zellmann, 58, was given the State Award of Merit at the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association conference in St. Cloud. The award recognizes “outstanding leadership and meritorious service and achievement in the vocation of interscholastic achievement.”
Each state grants one award every year and then that person is eligible to become the over merit award winner as selected by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
“This is a very prestigious award,” said Mike Beck, the president of MnIAAA. “There have been a lot of great athletic directors who have won this award over the year and Les is as deserving as any of them. He’s dedicated his life to helping kids grow up in a safe and welcoming environment.”
The Minnesota award began in 1988. Among the yearly recipients have been Paul Krueger of St. James (1991), Dick Maher of Blue Earth (1993), Ed Rundell of St. Peter (2001) and Sharon Euerle of Mankato West (2004). Euerle was also the AD at St. James before moving to Mankato.
“It’s humbling to get an award like this,” Zellmann said. “It’s considered the state highest award for an AD.
“If you look at that list you can see I had some pretty good role models to emulate. Both Paul (Krueger) and Sharon (Euerle) preceded me at St. James and I worked closely with Dick Maher in the South Central Conference over the years.”
Zellmann has been an educator for 36 years and has been an athletic director for 19 of them. He also coaches the boys and girls tennis teams at St. James and both are perennial contenders for state tournament berths.
In addition to his duties at the local level, Zellmann has been very involved at the state level. He was on the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors for four years, serving as president in 2010-11.
He is currently serves for the MnIAA as a strategic plan committee member as well as Leadership Training Institute coordinator/instructor. He’s also the Section 3AA football coordinator and is a past president of the Minnesota High School Tennis Coaches Association. Over the last two decades he’s won numerous state coach of the year and athletic director of the year honors.
Zellmann has accomplished much of this despite battling multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed in 2007. He admits it has slowed him down but doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
“I used to try to run two marathons a year but those days are over,” he said. “The MS has taken something that I love to do away from me but I’ve accepted that.
“I take a weekly injection that seems to be working well. As long as I have my health I’m going to stick with it. I’ll know when it’s time to hang it up.”