Living legends: Woitas, Weier similar in philosophies, differ in paths to hall of fame

NEW ULM – Among active area high school coaches, no two names are more synonymous with baseball than Bruce Woitas and Bob Weier.

Woitas of Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Weier of New Ulm Cathedral have led their schools to numerous Tomahawk Conference titles, hundreds of wins and Class A state titles in their time at the respective helms. Their achievements have not gone unnoticed, however, as both of them have been named Class of 2014 inductees into the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“Baseball in the New Ulm-Sleepy Eye area has been important and good quality for many, many years,” Weier said. “You can go way back into the 30s and 40s. All we’re doing is perpetuating that tradition, so to speak.”

Having concluded his 25th year as the head baseball coach at St. Mary’s this past season, Woitas has garnered a career record of 431-177 (.709 winning percentage), which seats him at 10th all time in state history. He led the Knights to state titles in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 as well as a runner-up finish in 2001 and a third-place finish in 2003.

“It kind of makes you stop and think, ‘Wow, that’s over 25 years,’ I don’t know what to say,” Woitas said. “It just shows that we’ve been very fortunate in relation to the number of wins that we’ve gotten over the last 25 years.”

Weier, who has now spent 22 years as Cathedral’s baseball coach, is not too far off with a career record of 354-150 (.702 winning percentage), which currently ranks 34th all time in state history. Weier led the Greyhounds to a state title in 2005, a state consolation title in 2008 and a third-place finish in 2009.

Even though their success and longevity are key components to their upcoming induction set for Oct. 25, the paths they took to the hall of fame were unique from one another while being similar in essence.

Coaching, teaching complement Woitas’ journey

Bruce Woitas has made himself known as a man of many hats in the town of Sleepy Eye. Along with his job as a physical education teacher at St. Mary’s High School, Woitas serves as the school’s activities director as well as the head coach for baseball and girl’s basketball. He is also the head coach of the Sleepy Eye legion and amateur baseball teams in the summer.

With all these hats, Woitas said it does get tiring at times with all the circumstances and situations that can arise and force him to miss one event or another.

“It’s a pretty big time commitment and sometimes you need other people to help you out because you can’t necessarily be there,” Woitas said. “I think most people understand that – especially in the summertime with other commitments that you have.”

Woitas has also been heavily involved with the MSHSBCA, where he served as 2nd Vice President (2006-08), 1st Vice President (2008-10), President (2010-12) and Past President (2012-14). He is currently the Chair of the Class A All-State Selection committee and serves on the Baseball Advisory Board, posts he has held since 2005.

With all his involvement in the sport of baseball, Woitas said respect of the game is the cornerstone of his coaching philosophy. To him, it is a great game he has won four state titles in and spends every year immersed in from March until August.

Woitas arrived in Sleepy Eye 26 years ago when he accepted a teaching job at St. Mary’s, where he served as an assistant coach for multiple sports for his first year. After one year as an assistant with five years of assistant coaching experience at his alma mater Minnesota Lake High School, Woitas became the head coach in baseball and girl’s basketball, posts he has held ever since.

Because teaching and coaching at the high school level can often go hand-in-hand, Woitas’ love of athletics allowed him to thrive in both facets for a little more than a quarter of a decade.

Developing relationships with students and players has been one of the most gratifying aspects of Woitas’ career.

“He’s a great coach,” said St. Mary’s shortstop Brandon Helget, who was an All-State selection under Woitas this past season. “He has a lot of experience, he’s taught me a lot through the years that he’s coached me. He also does a lot with helping players get noticed; he invites them to camps and stuff, helps them get noticed by colleges.”

Another gratifying aspect for Woitas has been the relationships he has developed with other coaches – both on his staff and in the opposing dugout. But in his 25 years at the helm of St. Mary’s baseball, no opposing coach has been more formidable than Bob Weier.

“We’ve had some dandy games,” Woitas said of competing against Weier. “If I were to research the history of the games between us, it would probably be pretty even and pretty competitive all the way through.

“That’s a unique thing about the sport is that you compete and then you still have that good relationship when the game is done.”

Respect, knowledge critical to Weier

Unlike Woitas, Bob Weier does not serve the dual role as teacher and coach. However, Weier got into coaching because of his involvement in the New Ulm Park & Recreation when he was still in school.

When he was 19, Weier moved on to coach VFW baseball, leading the team to the consolation championship at the state tournament that year.

“After that, I was just hooked on it,” Weier said. “I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that what my coaches taught me were good things and I carried it on, tried to pass that knowledge and thrill and passion onto the kids that I coached.”

Baseball has always been Weier’s main focus in the realm of sports dating back to his days growing up in New Ulm. Because of his hometown’s enthusiasm for the sport, Weier’s focus on baseball turned into a passion.

“Every chance we had, we’d play baseball,” Weier said.

A Cathedral alumnus, Weier credits the coaching he received as a big inspiration for what compelled him to become the coach he is today.

One of the biggest tenets of Weier’s coaching is his deep respect for the game of baseball, which he uses as a pillar for the way he coaches to pass down to his players.

“This past spring, we were kind of desperate in one of the games and we tried some things that were pretty unorthodox,” Weier said. “After the game and the next day at practice, I talked to the kids about how my desire to win is deep, but we told the kids, ‘Always within the rules.'”

Weier said he is “patient to a point,” understanding that some don’t pick things up as quickly as others do but that the passing down of information and knowledge to players is critical to success in coaching.

“Give your players an opportunity to understand it and work on the information that you’re trying to pass on,” Weier said. “And if they’re not successful to start with, continue to give them that opportunity.”

As expected of competing with a good friend and rival, Weier said beating the Woitas’ Knights is a big goal for his Greyhounds. Despite the differences between them, the aspiration of wanting to beat one another in the storied rivalry is likely one of the catalysts for their ascendence into the hall of fame.

“It’s a friendly, competitive atmosphere,” Weier said. “It’s been a rivalry between Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and New Ulm Cathedral as far back as the 1940s. All we’re doing is continuing that rivalry in a friendly and sportsmanship way.

“Believe me, that’s a team we like to come out on top [against] as often as we can and I’m sure they feel the same way. It’s enjoyable.”

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