By David Lias
Administrators and the board of the Vermillion School District will follow a standard procedure of placing “Help Wanted” advertisements in education-related publications as they begin the search to replace two of the state’s most experienced high school coaches.
Monday night, the board agreed to release both Gary Culver and Mark Upward from their extra duty assignments as football coach and gymnastics coach, respectively.
Both men will continue in their roles as educators for the Vermillion School District. Culver teaches mathematics at Vermillion High School. Upward is the district’s elementary principal.
“The openings will be advertised, and we’ll take applications, and screen the applications,” Superintendent Mark Froke said Tuesday. “Interviews will be taken, and we’ll select the best possible people that we can to serve the students and the school district.”
Culver, the all-time winningest coach at Vermillion High School, has completed 36 years at the helm of the Tanager football program. During his tenure, he led the Tanagers to five state championships in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1999.
Under his direction, the Tanagers also won 10 regional championships, 12 Big Eight Conference championships, and made 27 playoff appearances in the 32 years of high school football playoffs in South Dakota.
Upward just completed his 33rd year as head gymnastics coach at Vermillion High School. “He has been very successful during that time in that capacity,” Froke said at Monday’s school board meeting, shortly before the board accepted his coaching resignation.
Upward coached seven state championship teams, and seven state runner-up championship teams. “He also has coached 42 individual state title winners, and has gone to the state tournament 27 of his 33 years coaching,” said Chris Esping, school board president.
In a letter to Jason Huska, the district’s athletic director, Upward, 60, expressed thanks to the school board, Vermillion Booster Club and the Vermillion community for the support they have shown to the gymnastics program.
Upward is the architect of Vermillion gymnastics. He helped set up the program upon his graduation from the University of South Dakota in 1975 and became head coach in 1979.
Esping noted that Upward received the Coaches Hall of Fame Award in 1998, the Coaches Leadership Award in 2002, and the Pete Torino Award in 2007. In 2009, Upward received the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) Distinguished Service Award for his efforts in advancing gymnastics in not only Vermillion, but throughout the region.
“He was selected three times as the South Dakota Gymnastics Coach of the Year – in 1982, 1984 and 1985. He had some tremendous accomplishments during his coaching career. We thank him very much for his dedicated years of service,” she said.
Culver is one of 14 South Dakota high school football coaches to record 200 or more wins in their career. In 1990, he was selected as Siouxland Coach of the Year by the Sioux City Journal. In 1993, he served as the head coach of the South All-Star football team.
In 2004, Culver was a National Power of Influence Award Finalist as presented by the American Football Coaches Association and was also presented the Distinguished Service Award by the SDHSAA.
In 2009, he was inducted into the South Dakota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“Gary has a very distinguished career and he’s brought a lot of pride to this school district,” Froke told the board Monday shortly before it accepted Culver’s request to resign as football coach.
“With great respect in recognition of his dedicated years of service to the district, we thank him,” Esping said. “He’s also established a very successful youth football program within the community that is phenomenal.”
School Board member Matt Lavin summed up the challenge that will face the district as it begins its search for new coaches.
“Those last two resignations – that’s three decades of exceptional coaching for a district,” Lavin said, “and you can’t find many districts that are going to have coaches that have put in that much time, and have been involved with that many kids, and produced the level of excellence that the district has seen year after year from both of these individuals.”