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Huron College wrestling coach Vern Tate passes

Born and raised in Iowa. Served in the U.S. Army. College-educated in Colorado then remained in the state as a high school teacher and wrestling coach. Headed back to the Midwest to teach and coach wrestling at Huron College in South Dakota.

Those forty-two words encapsulate some of the high points of the 90-year life and career of Vernon A. Tate, who spent nearly a half-century of his life as a wrestling coach at both the high school and collegiate level.

Vern Tate passed away at age 90 in his home in Huron, S.D. on April 9, 2020.

Vernon Aubrey Tate was born on December 11, 1929, in Independence, Iowa. He grew up at Waterloo, Iowa and graduated from West Waterloo High School in 1948. After graduation in 1948, Tate enlisted in the United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1950. Eager to get a college education, Tate enrolled at Western State at Gunnison, Colo., graduating with a Bachelor's degree in 1954. He stayed in-state to earn his Masters' at Adams State at Alamosa, Colo. In subsequent years, Tate received additional education from Colorado State College, Ball State University in Indiana, and South Dakota State University.

Tate launched his high school teaching and coaching career at Ordway, Colo ... then remained in state to continue as a history teacher and wrestling and football coach in Holly and Alamosa, Colorado. In 1967, Tate moved to South Dakota after being hired by Huron College's then athletic director, Gil Peterson, hired him as head wrestling coach. For 31 years, Vern taught physical education and history. He was chairman of the history department for many years. He also served as athletic director, was assistant football coach and head wrestling coach.

Vern Tate guided Huron to a national runner-up finish in 1980
In his three decades at Huron College, Vern Tate built a successful wrestling program year after year. Among his accomplishments: 12 SDIC (South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference) team titles, seven national Top 20 finishes, three individual NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) national champions, and 31 All-American honorees.

What's more, Tate was voted Wrestling Coach of the Year for District 12 (1971, '73, '75); South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference Coach of the Year (1980-1986); South Dakota Sportswriters Coach of the Year (1973), and NAIA Wrestling Coach of the Year (1973 and 1980). He was inducted into the National (NAIA) Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999, the S.D.I.C. Hall of Fame in 1991 and into the Huron College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990. He received recognition for his 100th dual win in 1977, and for the 200th dual win in 1991. Vern was also voted Huron University Teacher of the Year (1990, 1993, 1994).

Arguably just as important as these impressive statistics and honors, his obituary stated, "Vern Tate was passionate about the career he had chosen and it was evident because of the lifelong friendships and admiration he acquired from his students, athletes, coaches and colleagues. Many of his student athletes would have taken a wrong path in life without the guidance of Coach Tate."

Echoing those sentiments were comments made to InterMat from two of Vern Tate's wrestlers.

"Coach Tate was a father figure to so many athletes up in Huron," said Merrick Wills who wrestled at the South Dakota college in the mid-1980s. "Don't really know how to describe in words how he brought out the best in all of us. I do know, he somehow made everyone click in the work out room, and that carried over to our showings at the national tournament the years I was there from 1983-1985. He really was a great mentor to so many of us that lacked something when we got there, but by the time we left he had us standing on the podium receiving All-American or National Championship Honors."

Jim Morkel and Vern Tate in Scottsdale (Ariz.) in 2017
"Vern as all great coaches touch their athletes beyond just their sport but also as mentors in life," Jim Morkel told InterMat. "I was fortunate to have been a Waterloo, Iowa boy raised to wrestle, I guess. My high school coach was Bob Siddens at Waterloo West High. Definitely been lucky with the men that influenced me."

"He was a heck of a man and coach. Pretty amazing in what he did at little Huron College."

A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorials to honor Vernon Tate may be sent to the Beadle County Humane Society or Huron Regional Medical Center Hospice.

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