In Wisconsin, Pete Olson is a pretty big fish in a medium-sized pond.
In Clearwater, Olson is a small fish in a small pond, but with a pretty large impact. That's just fine with the 17-year volunteer Clearwater High School boys basketball assistant varsity coach.
Olson, 76, a retired high school teacher and basketball coach from Wisconsin, is in two sports Halls of Fames in his native state, for basketball and fishing.
Eight months a year, Olson -- better known as "King" -- can be found on the waters of Boulder Lake near his home of Boulder Junction, which the locals brag is the musky capital of the world. It's so far north it's only a quick jog to the shores of Lake Superior and residents of Boulder Junction have to travel south quite a way to reach Titletown USA, Green Bay.
When the Wisconsin winters turn frigid, Olson retreats to his rented Clearwater Beach condo, a part-time Clearwater resident, where he resumes his stint with the Tornadoes, only for far less pay than he once received.
"Oh, I get all the free pizza I want in the Tornadoes VIP room after games," Olson quipped of his salary.
But it was his love of basketball, not so much fishing, that led Olson to walk into 17 years ago looking for work, sort of a siren call for an old coach.
"My wife and I would drive past the school and see all the cars there for basketball games and I told her I would have to check it out," Olson remembered. So he bumped into then-Tornadoes basketball coach Rudy Coffin by chance and, unaware of Coffin, asked if he could speak with the boys basketball coach.
"I thought someone was putting me on," Coffin would later say.
Olson explained his credentials to Coffin and his interest in getting back into the game in some way. Coffin invited him to a practice to monitor the team and give his feedback afterwards. The duo hit it off immediately.
"Two days later I was actively involved in the practices," Olsen said. Today, Coffin and Olson are still close friends.
It's not just that Olson has two Wisconsin state titles to his name, it's also who he knows. University of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is a close confidant. Ryan has an open invitation for Olson to sit in on Badgers practices. Olson spends a week each fall with Ryan before his winter migration to Clearwater Beach.
"When he was an assistant at Wisconsin he would recruit my players," said Olson, who coached at Madison LaFollette. [Ryan] "would sit in the front row behind my bench and watch me diagram plays."
Olson is now on his third Clearwater coach. First with Coffin, then Jack Coit, now Allen Carden, who like Coit, sort of inherited Olson. All three cherished having a coach like Olson to confide in.
"'King' is a valuable commodity for our basketball program," Carden said. "We are very similar in our philosophies, we are both old school. We both like to score; we both know how important defense is; we both hate turnovers."
Carden actually said he wishes Olson would be more forceful and pointed in practices so the players would be able to tap into Olson's vast basketball intelligence, "Though we get tired of hearing about the Badgers all the time," Carden joked.
"'King' is our inspiration," Clearwater forward Jon Hogan said. "He strives to be perfect. Everything he does, he tries to do the best he can. He's an overseer, making sure we do what we are supposed to. You can always talk to coach 'King.' He's a fun guy."
Carden gives Olson a lot of freedom, the old coach admits and is grateful. Olson slowly, quietly paces the basketball court during practice, his eyes riveted on the players. He usually speaks softly if at all during practice. But when Olson does raise his voice, the players know he means business. The gym suddenly turns silent, but for Olson's voice; the players stop in their tracks.
"My main goal is to get the kids to learn how to work hard and to work harder than they think they can," Olson said. "Man is born lazy. We're always taking short cuts, do as little as possible. That is no road to success. If they learn to work harder than they think they can, they have a chance to be successful."
Currently, Carden lets Olson have the first crack at the players at halftime of games. Carden often bounces ideas off Olson for feedback or assurance during games.
"I try to put up a couple of things on the board that I observe, things to harp on and diagram," Olson said.
How long Olson continues to spend his winters coaching at Clearwater, not even he knows but his goal is "for the next 20 years." Olson admits he doesn't even know how much longer he will continue wintering in Florida.
"I don't know if I will be alive tomorrow for crying out loud," Olson joked. "I'll go as long as I can go as long as I am healthy. If I'm not healthy, I may not come to Florida anymore.
"I have to get away from those Wisconsin winters."
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