Soccer and life entwined: Olson ends good run as Elks coach

Tom Olson, who played for the Elks and Augsburg, was Elk boys head coach for 20 years. He stepped down after the 2012 season with 188 wins and six state trips. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Soccer has been such a big part of Tom Olson’s life the last 30 years that even his two daughters’ births were intertwined with soccer milestones.

Now Olson is stepping down after 20 years as the Elk River boys’ head coach, to “just be a dad” and watch Emma, 15, play soccer in the Rogers system, and his daughter Hannah, 10, in the sport she loves, karate.

Olson, 44, a history teacher at Rogers, started with the Three Rivers Soccer Association in 1980, played for the Elks and Augsburg College, returned to his hometown to teach, and became Elk head coach in 1993.

Olson’s first two teams had zero and five wins, but he  wound up with a pretty good tenure  with a 188-159-41 record, six trips to state, two titles in a tough conference for soccer, nine players on coaches association all-state and seven honorable mention.

“It has been a wonderful career for me,” said  Olson, who’s most proud that all his seniors graduated, and that nine came back to coach with him at one time or another.

Tom and Laura have been married the same 20 years he’s been coach. Their first anniversary was spent at ERHS sports registration night.

Both girls are “soccer babies” whose arrivals seemed to bring dad good luck. Emma was born between the section quarterfinals and semifinals in 1997; that team became the first to go to state. Hannah was born Halloween 2002, the day the Elks won a third-place game at state for the program’s best-ever state finish.

“I made it to the game,” said Olson, explaining that he was just keeping Laura awake and since the baby was sleeping anyway, she sent him to the game to get some peace and quiet.

The 1986 ERHS graduate played football through 10th grade, then became the first Elk to switch from football to soccer. A sweeper and defender, he played two seasons with the Elks and four with Augsburg.

Olson, who succeeded Claire Olson (no relation), his own coach, in 1993, figures his best teams were 2000 with 18 wins and 2002 with 16 wins. He’s done well in section finals, going 6-3.

Reluctant to name a best player, he has no trouble picking his favorite game, the 1998 section semifinal when a 4th-seeded team upset top-seed Apollo 6-3.

“We matched them goal for goal up to 3-3. This included our goalie saving a penalty shot.  We had a player red-carded for a hand ball in the box to prevent a goal …  After tying them 3-3, we went on a three-goal unanswered streak with only 10 men and won 6-3.”

Olson’s final game was a shootout loss at home in the 8AA semi’s against Anoka, whose coach, Pete Hayes, is one of two guys he coached against all 20 seasons. The other is Berry Arrowsmith of St. Francis and Blaine.