Joe Lane, Minnetonka High’s head boys track and field coach from 1973-2000, passed away last week after suffering a heart attack.
His death at the age of 72 shocked teaching and coaching colleagues at Minnetonka and many, many athletes who achieved success under his tutelage.
Jane Reimer-Morgan, the former Minnetonka High girls track coach, who is still head coach of the Skippers’ cross country team, said, “Joe was a very personal coach, who made each of the athletes feel special. He could be stern at times, stubborn at times, but he was a gentle giant, who truly believed in our kids. Joe had great warmth for the kids who weren’t great athletes, as well as for those who were. He would always have a compliment ready.”
Lane specialized in coaching the throwers on the boys and girls teams, but he was also highly skilled when it came to organizing lineups and identifying the best events for each individual.
His shining moment came at the conclusion of the 1976 track season, when the Minnetonka boys won the state championship. Elwin Burditte was the star of that memorable team, as he scored 31 points in the State Meet.
Lane had a famous quote that he used year after year, and it still rings true today: “Run fast and turn left.”
Throughout his career, Lane was patient with his athletes and supportive of his coaching staff.
“When I joined the coaching staff here in 1985, I had the opportunity to work with some phenomenal people,” Reimer-Morgan noted. “Joe and Bob Rogness were my coaching mentors along with my dad. My days of working with Joe and Bob are among my favorite memories.”
In addition to being a championship coach, Lane was lauded for his work as a classroom teacher.
“Joe touched countless lives in so many ways,” said Reimer-Morgan, whose son and daughter had Lane as a teacher at Minnetonka Middle School East. “His knowledge was surpassed only by the kindness of his heart.”
Reimer-Morgan has been busy this week, trying to contact as many of Lane’s former students as possible.
“As I contacted them to let them know of Joe’s passing, one thing was clear … the huge impact he had made on their lives,” she said.
Chris Cohen, a 1987 Minnetonka High graduate, who replaced Lane as the Skippers’ head coach in 2001, said, “Joe meant the world to a lot of people. I was one of his assistant coaches for eight years before he turned the keys over to me. He stepped away for a few years, so I could develop my program. But the more he was away, the more I pestered him to come back.”
Lane did come back to work with the shot-putters and discus-throwers. His enthusiasm was contagious, just as it was when he was the head coach.
“A lot of what I learned about coaching, I learned from Joe,” Cohen said. “He taught me to be fair and be consistent. And that each athlete is an important member of the team.
“When Joe was coaching, he worked mainly with the throwers, but at the same time, he know the PRs [personal records] for everyone on the team to the inch or the second.”
Cohen learned about motivation during his years as Lane’s assistant.
“Joe did a great job of getting the best athletes in school out for track,” said Cohen. “And he was a great advocate for the track team.”
After he retired as a head coach, Lane worked with throwers in several area high school programs, including Blaine, Chanhassen, Delano and Rockford.
The Final Day
As fate would have it, Cohen was with coach Lane the day he suffered the heart attack that would take his life a day later.
“Joe called me on Monday and asked if I would come out to his farm in Delano on Tuesday to help bale hay,” Cohen recalled. “Some current and former athletes whom Joe called were helping, too, and we put up 700 bales in about three hours. We worked hard the whole time, but as Joe supervised, we were laughing and joking.
“We went onto the deck to eat and that is when Joe had his cardiac event. We did the best we could until the paramedics arrived.”
The next day, coach Lane was gone.
“I was in shock,” said Cohen. “It is still sinking in. Joe and I had a father-son relationship, and his death was the saddest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
What will Cohen remember most about his mentor?
“How well he treated everyone,” he said. “Joe could bench press about 400 pounds, and I remember being in awe of his strength and his presence.”
The memory of that presence will live on for years to come at Minnetonka High School.
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