From sidelines to stands: Dahl resigns as EHS boys' basketball coach
At the conclusion of the 2017-18 basketball season, Tim Dahl planned on reuniting with his Ellsworth boys' basketball players at their summer basketball tournament in the Dells on June 20.
Then, as Dahl said, "life happened."
Dahl, Ellsworth's head boys' basketball coach of three years, resigned from the position in the end of May after being offered a job at Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery.
"I had an opportunity to take a job here in Ellsworth, and I took it," Dahl, who formerly worked at K-TEK Wisconsin in Baldwin, said. "I'm now working down at the creamery. They told me they would work with me on scheduling so that I could continue to coach, but it would have been awful tough to keep going."
Dahl also mentioned the ailing health of his in-laws, which has forced him to reevaluate his priorities.
"My wife's parents aren't doing so well, health-wise," Dahl said. "I don't know if the timing is ever right, but ..."
Though Dahl was quick to put his family first, saying goodbye to the winter lifestyle he's grown accustomed to was no easy decision.
Dahl began coaching youth basketball in 2001 and soon latched onto the class of 2019, the group he began mentoring in seventh grade traveling basketball and is now handing off to his replacement.
When asked how his long-standing relationship with the incoming senior class affected the difficulty of his decision, Dahl responded, "That didn't help, for sure.
"We won some games the last couple of years," Dahl said. "I don't want to say we turned the program around, but we got it headed in the right direction. It takes talent, it takes belief from players and the coaching staff, and I think we had that. I think that comes with familiarity, which I had with the senior group coming in."
Dahl's bond with his players and his love for the game mixed with some of the best talent in Ellsworth basketball history led to more than just pointing the program "in the right direction." This remedy completely transformed Ellsworth boys' basketball from a low-threat Middle Border Conference team to a winningest Panther team over the course of Dahl's three years.
Dahl took over as Ellsworth's head coach after the 2014-15 season, a 4-15 year for the Panthers. After receiving the position in 2015, Dahl told the Herald he wanted to create a program that was worthy of fan enthusiasm, just like Prescott's. "It's awesome to see how the town gets behind that team," Dahl said of the Cardinals back in 2015. "I think people here want to do the same, they've just got to have a reason to come to the gym. If we can score 50, 60 points, and put a winning team on the floor, it will draw a lot of people to the game."
Anyone who traveled to New Richmond to watch Prescott and Ellsworth battle it out in the 2017-18 sectional semifinals, Dahl's last game as head coach, would give the verdict that Dahl and his team followed through with the three-year coach's initial goal, using hundreds of zealous, purple-wearing fans as their evidence.
"We created a little bit of buzz and excitement with the program," Dahl said. "That game up in New Richmond against Prescott ... phenomenal. To walk out and see the sea of purple, it was fantastic. People will come if you put a good product on the floor."
Though the 2017-18 Panther team was unable to get past their Cardinal rivals in the semifinal game, the squad wrapped up their season with a regional title and a 20-5 record, which was the program's best since the 1966-67 season.
But Dahl won't take the credit for what his historic team did in his final season on the bench.
"I want to thank my players," Dahl said. "They're the ones out there on the court. We can kind of give them some guidance, and I think that was part of our biggest success: letting the boys play and letting them figure it out. I didn't need to draw up a bunch of X's and O's. They figured it out on their own, and they were pretty good about playing together as a group."
Dahl's 20-5 team was led by 2018 seniors Drake Flom and Alex Motley who combined for 2,035 career points during their time as Panthers. Last season's starting seniors were lifted by a multi-talented Benson, a hard-nosed Lange and several players who were more than willing to switch up their roles however Dahl deemed fit.
"They're a very talented group, and we have more talent coming," Dahl said, "so whoever is going to be the next coach is going to walk into a pretty good situation."
Based on the high regards Dahl's former players hold him in, his replacement has Shaq-sized shoes to fill.
"(Dahl) has helped the program as he turned it around, improving every year as a coach record-wise," Benson said. "He helped put a new standard on Ellsworth basketball. He's helped the program by putting his all into it, and it showed."
"Coach Dahl was a great mentor and role model for me," Lange said. "He's an adult that I can just talk to about my struggles or whatever is going on in my life."
"Coach Dahl is a man who truly loves the game of basketball," Flom said. "The knowledge he had for the game is what made him such a special coach. His screaming from the bench will definitely be missed at EHS."
Dahl acknowledged his players' parents who he thanked for their unconditional support and parenting skills, which allowed him to work seamlessly with his players without any major hassles. Dahl was adamant that his resignation had nothing to do with the team's parents, which tends to be a leading factor in high school coaches stepping down.
Along with his former players and their parents, Dahl listed his coaching colleagues, the high school's administration, the members of Ellsworth Basketball Association and his fellow Middle Border Conference coaches as those he owes thank you's to.
"It takes a community of people to build a program," Dahl said. "It's not just me, it's not just the coaches, it's not just the players."
At the top of his long thank-you list lies his wife Karen Dahl.
"She let me have all the time in the world to do all of this," Dahl said. "Now it's my time to go back and help her with her parents."
Next winter will be the first basketball season in six years that Dahl won't have the title of "coach" attached to his name. While Dahl tends to his family and takes on his new career, he'll miss out on the daily two hours of therapeutic-like practices. But don't worry Drake, Dahl's voice will still be heard in his basketball sanctuary.
"I told the boys, 'You're still going to hear me,'" Dahl said. "'I'm just going to be sitting on the other side of the court.'"
Thanks to what he's gained from his three years with the Panthers, Dahl is at ease with his upcoming transition from the sidelines to the stands.
"How many people get to look at their lives and say, 'Hey, I got to do something that I really love to do,'" Dahl asked. "People go their whole lives without saying that. I can say that because of what I've gotten to do with Ellsworth basketball."