Legendary Coach and South Dakota Sports Hall of Famer Gary Munsen has died at the age of 72. Munsen coached basketball for a total of 46-years, but 39 of those years were spent with the Mitchell Kernels.
Between 1976 and 2002, the Kernels only missed the state tournament once.
Mitchell School District Business Manager Steve Culhane is one of Munsen’s former players. He said he also considers Munsen a friend.
“I played for two years for Coach Munsen, in his second and third year as coach of the Kernels,” said Culhane. “And so, I’ve known Gary for a long time, and he basically earned all the success that he had, because he outworked everybody over all the years that he coached.”
During his boys’ basketball coaching tenure with the Kernels, 34 of those teams appeared at the State Tournament event.
Culhane’s son was a second-generation family member to play for Munsen.
“One of the things that Gary was very good at was making everyone feel important,” said Culhane. “And he seemed to have a great relationship with all his players.”
The current Executive Director of the High School Activities Association, Wayne Carney, officiated several games that Munsen was involved in.
Carney said one of his first experiences of him came when Mitchell and Huron played a girls’ game at the Corn Palace.
“I make a call, and I hear Gary on the sidelines saying, ‘Jeez, Wayne, this isn’t a Class B game!’ I kinda let it go, you know,” said Carney. “At the next dead ball or time out or whatever it was, I’m standing next to Gary and we’re talking and I say, ‘Gary, I’m sorry about that last call, but it must be Ruth’s mistake at the Activities Association, because she only sent me one rule book and I thought it was good for all three classes!”
Munsen retired in the spring of 2012. His last Mitchell team advanced to the Class AA Boys State Championship game where they lost to Sioux Falls O’Gorman.
During his coaching career with Mitchell, Munsen won a total of 12 state tiles, three for girls and nine for boys. At the time of his retirement, he had the most wins of any South Dakota high school boys basketball coach. That number has since been broken by Larry Luitjens of Custer.