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For the love of the game

Bob Gorden (center) has had great success as Detroit Lakes head boys’ golf coach, reeling in three state championships, but he also has had a prosperous career as a Laker basketball coach the last 40 years. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

For the last 40 years, the Detroit Lakes boys’ basketball program has had one aspect as consistent as their red-and-white jerseys – Bob Gorden.

But all good things must come to an end, as Gorden will retire from his basketball coaching duties at the end of this season, a position he has held over the last four decades.

“Bob has been such a consistent force in Detroit Lakes for so long and he brought a lot of basketball knowledge to the program,” said Laker head boys’ basketball coach Robb Flint. “He definitely will be missed.”

But basketball has been a part of Gorden’s life for much longer than his 40-year coaching career in DL.

It started when he first picked up a basketball as a Kindergartener, a love which has progressed and shared with hundreds of DL students over the years.

During his high school playing career at Little Falls/Big Fork, he felt the agony of losing only a handful of times. His junior season, the Flyers beat Bemidji in the playoffs, a team in which defeated Little Falls six straight times (there was only one class then).

“I got started in basketball at a young age with my dad, since he was enthused about sports,” Gorden said. “That’s what drove me into coaching, I wanted to teach basketball after I was done with high school.”

But his playing days were not over after his Little Falls’ days, instead he played three more years at Moorhead State, then eventually moved into coaching his senior year for the Dragons and stayed a fifth year on the staff.

Ironically, his Little Falls/Big Fork head coach, Don Rockstad, moved to Detroit Lakes, where he invited Gorden to coach on his staff.

“That’s where it started and I stayed here  ever since,” Gorden said.

Gorden literally coached on every level of the boys’ basketball during his time as a Laker. The first team he headed was the sophomore squad when John Erickson took over as head coach.

That lasted “11 to 13 years” and when Erickson retired, Gorden took over the head coaching duties for the varsity for the next five seasons.

Gorden moved back to coach the Middle School teams when his two sons, Mychal and Matt, came through to play.

He moved back to as an assistant under head varsity coach Wade Johnson, who firsthand saw the positive contributions Gorden made.

“He is the most organized person on the planet,” said Johnson, who is now the Principal and Activities Director at Warren-Alvarado-Oslo High School. “He brought good experience, loyalty and calmness to the position.

“Bob also knew his basketball.”

Gorden even helped coach the upstart DL girls’ basketball program in the 1970’s, along with Steve Sundby.

“It’s gone by fast, but I still enjoyed being in the gym every day,” Gorden said.

Being with family is the main reason why Gorden is calling it a career. His wife, Diane, is retiring from her teaching position from the DL School District this coming spring and the two will be living half of the year in Arizona, where they will spend valuable time with their grandchildren.

Gorden will continue his boys’ golf coaching duties, though, in the future.

After 40 years of seeing the game, there have been plenty of changes.

“The three-point shot was a big change,” Gorden said. “The game has become faster and players stronger.

“I also remember one year Don (Rockstad) didn’t think the kids were as interested in basketball as they should be. So he had every kid carry a basketball all day long in school for one week. I don’t know if you could do that anymore.

Gorden also noted the game has changed in amount of time put in. Now, it’s 12 months a year instead of just the season.

But one aspect has not changed over 40 years, though.

“I have not seen a change in the kids,” Gorden said. “They come in wanting to play and enjoy it as much as the ones did 40 years ago.”

Basketball and especially coaching it, will always be a part of Gorden’s life, even in retirement.

But it’s time for Gorden to enjoy the next part of his life.

“I will miss coming to the gym,” Gorden said. “But what I will enjoy now is the time Diane and I will spend with our grandkids. Maybe I’ll volunteer coaching basketball in Arizona. Who knows?

“But it was a good run here and one I enjoyed.”

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.