CEDAR RAPIDS — When Dennis Olejniczak began coaching baseball in Decorah, “Bonanza” was tops on television, “Fiddler on the Roof” debuted on Broadway, Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House and The Beatles wanted to hold your hand.
His coaching tenure outlasted all of them, except for Paul McCartney.
The Vikings head coach announced his retirement in a news release from the school Monday, closing a stellar coaching career that spanned more than five decades and 1,417 total victories, which ranks second all-time in Iowa and nationally.
The 78-year-old skipper was the head coach at Janesville for one season, moving on to win 1,409 in 55 seasons at Decorah, beginning in 1964.
“With deep consideration and common sense thought, the decision to retire was an easy one for (wife) Paula and I to make,” Olejniczak said in the news release. “We are thankful for all the support through the years from the players, parents, community, school district, assistant coaches and our family.
“For the sake of the baseball program we so dearly love, this is the right decision for Paula and I to make.”
The Vikings finished 21-8 last summer and advanced to the district finals. Olejniczak guided Decorah to the state tournament 11 times, winning state titles in 1970, 1990 and 1991. The Vikings earned runner-up finishes in 1989, 1992 and 2012. Olejniczak coached 18 Northeast Iowa Conference title teams, including 15 from 1973-92.
The Hall of Famer was named 2009 National Coach of the Year by National High School Coaches Association and trails only former Lansing Kee Coach Gene Schultz, who won 1,754 games.
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“As a school district, we thank Coach O and his wife, Paula, for their commitment to the school district and the baseball program,” Decorah Activities Director Adam Riley said. “Their passion and support of the school district and community has set an example of service that is unprecedented in this day and age.
“We cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices made for the young people of our community and wish he and Paula all the best as they continue to be a part of our community and supporting students in all activities during the coming years.”
His love for baseball was motivation for his players.
“He’s excited to coach the game and it makes us excited to play the game,” 2014 Decorah senior Kyle Kane told The Gazette in an interview that season. “It is always fun to play for somebody so passionate about what they are doing.”
Olejniczak also spent 35 years coaching Decorah Little League, leaving his stamp on the sport in the area at all levels. He coached multiple generations of family members, including fathers and sons, siblings and uncles.
“It is our hope that parents and the public understand that it was always my desire to help our young people gain real life experiences through playing the game of baseball to help them succeed in life beyond baseball,” Olejniczak said. “Our time with Decorah Baseball was nothing short of an amazing experience and we hope the program can continue to experience great success in the coming years.”
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