Like a fine wine, an extra year has made the impending hall of fame inductions for Franz Boelter and Steve Paulsen taste that much better.
Boelter and Paulsen are scheduled to be only the eighth and ninth Minnesotans inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) Hall of Fame July 28 in Lincoln, Nebraska. The pair were set to be inducted in 2020, but the ceremony was delayed until this summer.
For Boelter — a longtime volleyball and boys basketball coach at Bethlehem Academy — and Paulsen — a Northfield native who experienced unprecedented success as Edina’s boys and girls tennis coach — the gravity of that history is still difficult to comprehend even after the extra year.
“To me, it’s overwhelming,” Boelter said. “I can’t comprehend it. I think of all the coaches that have been role models for me and mentors for me that I watched and learned from for years and years. I get the explanation that people are saying, but I don’t know. It’s overwhelming and I don’t know what to say about it.”
Paulsen added: “It’s very surprising. There’s so many people in my sport of tennis that are very deserving, and you couple that with all the other sports and all the other legends that are out there. I’m certainly humbled by my selection. There’s a lot of great, quality coaches with unbelievable tenures that are out there.”
After Boelter found out last year about his induction, he spent the next handful of days searching for an explanation. He called fellow coaches, mentors and administrators expressing his disbelief in his selection.
He was met on the other side of those phone calls with a resounding, “Duh.”
That was due to Boelter’s 613-290 record as a high school boys basketball coach (30 years at Bethlehem Academy, six years at Medford), and a mark of 603-165 as a high school volleyball coach. He helped the Bethlehem Academy volleyball team qualify for a Minnesota-record eight consecutive state tournaments, and 13 state tournaments in a 16-year span.
The Cardinals won seven state championships during that time, which ties a Minnesota record, and advanced to a record 12 championship matches. Bethlehem Academy won 18 straight Gopher Conference titles and rattled off 137 straight conference wins. Boelter was named the Minnesota volleyball coach of the year five times.
Boelter’s success continued into the winter season, where he helped the Bethlehem Academy boys basketball team qualify for four state tournaments. The Cardinals topped out as state runner-ups, and claimed 16 Gopher Conference championships.
“I humbly accept it, but it’s a shared award,” Boelter said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to do what I do. I love working with kids so much and I’m still doing it.”
Boelter last served as a high school head coach during the 2017 volleyball season, but has since worked as an assistant at New Prague High School for a season, coached a club team with Northern Lights Volleyball and helped run volleyball camps this summer.
For Paulsen, the month of July has been spent reflecting on past teams, players and mentors as he attempts to grapple with his induction. That starts with Paulsen’s coach at Northfield, Jim Holden, and his coach at St. Olaf, Whitey Aus.
Paulsen graduated from Northfield High School in 1980 before earning a degree from St. Olaf in 1984.
“There’s certainly other coaches that are colleagues of mine that have helped me and befriended me and we’ve had great conversations along the way,” Paulsen said. “There’s a handful of people we played against several times a year and I respect the heck out of what they are doing and have done with their programs.”
Four years after graduating from St. Olaf, Paulsen took over the Edina High School boys tennis program in 1988.
In 1992, he took over the girls program for the Hornets. After a relative drought of four seasons without a state title, Paulsen and Edina went on to win 23 state championships before he retired after the 2019 season.
That run included 19 straight titles to finish Paulsen’s coaching career.
Paulsen’s success awes the likes of even Boelter, who said he was honored to be included in the same Hall of Fame class as a coach with Paulsen’s level of success.
Boelter also credited the work of all his athletes, assistant coaches and team managers with pulling him toward his achievements, and said he’s hoping the club of Minnesota coaches included in the NHSACA becomes less exclusive in the coming years.
“I can think of so many coaches that should be in and hopefully one day they will be, but it’s an overwhelming honor,” Boelter said. “What I always told my kids, is that any individual awards we get are team awards. We all do it together, and when your team does well individuals are recognized. I’ll accept this on behalf of all the players that ever played for us, all the assistant coaches that coached with me. It’s what we all did together that lets this happen. It’s a shared award, there’s no doubt about that.”