The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 20, 2013

Rueda column: Gene Hildebrandt leaves a legacy on and off the mat at St. James



“If you aren’t involved in anything, no matter what your ethnic background, there’s a good chance trouble will find you. I saw the wrestling program as an opportunity to be a second home to a lot of these kids.”

Twenty years ago there was only one Latino family in town. Since then, thanks to recruiting by a few local businesses, 30 percent of the general population and 50 percent of the student body is Latino.

And somehow, St. James has made it all work without any significant racial strife. This past season his Latino team members were mostly second-generation kids in the community.

“I remember talking to an assistant coach in the cafeteria this season when the kids were all having lunch together,” Hildebrandt said. “They were all joking and interacting with each other just like it was one big, happy family. It makes you feel good to see things like that.”

Hildebrandt intends to stay on as the dean of students for at least five or six more years. If a coaching position opens up with the junior high team, he might be interested in that, as well.

“Whether I’m coaching or not, I’ll still be in the hallways talking to kids,” Hildebrandt said. “I still want to keep them involved as much as possible — whether it sports or any other activity.”


Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or email him at jrueda@

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