The first thing a typical Faribault native might think when they hear the name Dick Shiels is the impact he had on Faribault wrestling. He had a big one. But he was a lot more than that.
Shiels died Sunday, May 21 at the age of 86.
Dick coached wrestling at Faribault High School for 24 years and worked as a school principal. After making an initial move to Faribault in what was thought of at the time to be something of a temporary or stepping stone, it instead turned into a situation where he could plant roots.
“I think what he would want is to let the community know that he felt honored to be a part of it,” said Dick’s son, Tim Shiels. “He felt that he just got great support from the wrestlers and from their parents and that he also had that kind of support from the community not only as a coach but as a principal. When they first moved to town, I think the initial thought was, ‘This is a good place for a couple years and we’ll see what happens,’ but they fell in love with Faribault and the people. The relationships and the friendships that they had. I think that’s what was the most dear to both my parents’ hearts.”
Inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1990, Dick coached at Faribault High School for 24 years and racked up more than 200 wins, plus conference championships and state tournament appearances.
Many sports programs at Faribault High School experience competitive ebbs and flows. One program that has traditionally been competitive is the wrestling program. In a lot of ways, Dick laid the foundation for that success.
“He was the main coach that really put Faribault wrestling kind of on the map,” said former FHS wrestling coach Tim Tousignant. “He made it one of the sports that Faribault is traditionally tough in.”
“Obviously he was a very good coach,” said longtime assistant coach Dave Kinney. “Very prepared. But also he was quite competitive. He tried to figure out ways that Faribault could end up on top in the final score. He was very well organized. The kids respected him. That was the main thing. For Faribault, wrestling was a good sport.”
Father and son
Dick retired from coaching in 1983. He certainly didn’t retire from wrestling though.
Tim Shiels, who is now the National Coordinator for Officials for the NCAA, was a college official who would travel all over the country refereeing wrestling matches. On many of those trips, his father Dick would accompany him.
Those experiences are a treasure to Tim now more than ever.
“I have fellow officials who I now oversee who ask about him or how he was doing,” said Tim. “I have coaches who say, ‘Hey I see you are with your pa.’ During those times, you have a lot of downtime to spend together. I got to know things about him that I don’t think I would’ve ever known. People that shaped his life. Specific things he remembers and how he was influenced. How he thought about wrestling. How he thought about life. Those are things that will be with me my entire lifetime.”
And a little over a year ago the two became the first father-son combo to go into the National Minnesota Chapter of the Hall of Fame.
Dick was right where he’d been for many years — by Tim’s side.
“Yeah that was special,” Tim said. “When I was a little kid I would zip down to the wrestling room [to watch dad run practice]. I loved it. I loved being around him. We never thought that something like that could happen. At the banquet I remember he made a comment about how things come full circle. How he remembered having to help me up the steps onto the bus and then I had to help him up the steps at the banquet. Those the types of things that stay with you forever.”
Life after coaching
Dick was passionate about Faribault wrestling long after he retired from coaching. And while his physical presence in the program may have waned as he got older, his name and his personality remained. Faribault hosts an annual tournament early in the season named after him.
“He hasn’t been in coaching for a number of years, but every year we award scholarships that he and his family donate back to our kids,” said current FHS head coach Jesse Armbruster. “Kids are able to get scholarships in his name and that’s really cool. All sports have a history. But you walk in our room, our tournament is in his name; those kinds of things are pretty cool.”
Wrestling was a big part of Dick’s life. A big part. But it was Dick Shiels the person that made Dick Shiels the coach such a success.
“I think his greatest strength was that he didn’t see himself as special,” said Tim. “Other people did. He was a great listener. He had the ability to connect with people. It didn’t matter your age. It didn’t matter if you were male or female. It didn’t matter your race. Dad’s strength was that if you worked hard and took pride in what you did, he respected you.”
“He was fun to be around,” said Kinney. “Very good to be around. He’s been retired for a few years, he was out of the sports but he was still well known. We’d go out for coffee and people would stop and talk with him. It was very easy to be around him, people felt comfortable around him.”
It didn’t require great intuition to recognize the kind of person Dick was. His ability to connect with just about anyone no matter how much time spent and the selfless nature with which he carried himself in every avenue of life made him someone many found easy to gravitate towards.
Dick Shiels will be remembered by most particularly as a pillar in FHS wrestling history. Many will remember that being part of the equation, but he’ll be cherished because he was much more than a great wrestling coach.
“Just a fantastic man,” said Armbruster. A man of great character and value. It’s a great loss. It’s tough when you lose someone like that. I just feel honored that I get to do some of the same things a guy like that was able to do. Blessed that I had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him.”
“I think what they are going to miss the kind of guy, whether you saw him at a library or a grocery store, he was still the kind of guy that was going to ask you how you were doing,” said Tim. “About you, your kids and your family; he was genuine. He was the kind of person that people thought of as a best friend or would like to have had as a best friend.”