Remembering a local De Smet legend

DE SMET — Family and friends will gather today in a place that he loved to celebrate the life of longtime De Smet coach and educator Marv McCune.

McCune passed away Sunday at the age of 66, following a lengthy battle with leukemia and a more recent COVID-19 diagnosis. His funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m., today at the De Smet High School gym and will be livestreamed on the Crawford-Osthus Funeral Chapel Facebook page.

McCune’s love for the De Smet school and its athletic programs, in addition to the community in general, has been very evident and will continue to live on through the lives of so many he touched.

“The Bulldogs are a huge part of this community and Marv was the perfect example of a small town hero who would do anything he could to make De Smet a better place to live, work and play,” said De Smet boys’ basketball coach Jeff Gruenhagen, who guided the Bulldogs to a Class B state basketball championship just over a month ago. “He will never be replaced and he will always be remembered as the greatest coach we have ever had. I am so glad that he taught and coached myself and my children, providing so many life lessons along the way. Not only did it make great athletes, it also made the Bulldogs he coached great people.”

McCune is a 1972 graduate of De Smet High School. He went on to attend Huron College, where he played basketball and baseball and majored in education.

Following his collegiate career McCune spent two years teaching and coaching in Bristol before moving back to his hometown in 1978. He coached the Bulldogs in football, basketball and track in addition to becoming the school’s athletic director.

“Marv’s impact on De Smet athletics may be unmeasureable. His success in many sports showed how well he could handle people and get the most out of an individual, while building those individuals into a close-knit team,” Gruenhagen said. “He was involved in all sports from as far back as I can remember. Basketball, football, track, fast-pitch softball and baseball were all thriving sports in De Smet during Marv’s time here.

“He played, coached, officiated, scheduled, worked on the fields and gym, including lining up all the referees, scorekeepers and clock operators for everything the Bulldogs did,” he said.
McCune is one of just three coaches in the history of South Dakota athletics to win state titles in both football and basketball.

In football, McCune guided the Bulldogs to the mythical Class 11B state title in 1980 and then the Class 11A championship in 1981. He was also an assistant coach for the De Smet team, which won the Class 9A football championsip in 1988.

McCune was slected as the Class 9A Assistant Football Coach of the Year in 1990 and was inducted into the South Dakota Football Coaches Hall of Fame earlier this year.

During his 22-year tenure as the head boys’ basketball coach for the Bulldogs, McCune guided his team’s to nine state tournament appearances. De Smet won Class B championships in 1987 and 1995, along with a Class A title in 1999.

McCune, who finished with a career record of 337-149, was named as the Coach of the Year by the South Dakota Basketball Coaches Association in 1995. He was a National Coach of the Year finalist in 2004 and named to the SDBCA Hall of Fame in 2013.

Gruenhagen, along with Doug Osthus, who guided the De Smet girls’ basketball team to a Class B state title in 2019, were both member’s of McCune’s state championship team in 1987 and both had a great deal of admiration for their former coach and mentor.

“The impact he has made in De Smet can’t be matched,” Osthus said. “Marv has been a huge part of my life since I was very young. He lived across the street from me for several years and was a strong influence on me in regards to how to treat others and lead a balanced life.”

Although neither was involved with the educational system for their professions, both Gruenhagen and Osthus derived their desire to coach from their time in the gym with McCune.

“My decision to get into coaching had a lot to do with Marv,” Osthus said. “I was comfortable coaching, because I knew I had the knowledge of the game from what I had learned as a player from Marv.

“I knew I had his support and I knew I could rely on his daily guidance to do the best job as a coach that I could,” he said. “He and I had daily noon-time conversations, especially during the season.”

Gruenhagen, who received his college degree in accounting and computer science, got his start in coaching as his children started to participate in football and basketball in third grade. He had no plans to making the move to the high school ranks until he joined forces with Osthus to coach the girls’ basketball team and then became the head coach for the varsity boys’ basketball team.

“While Marv did not push me to coach high school basketball, he was always very supportive and was always there with honest answers and input, so we could develop as coaches and help our teams be the best they could be,” Gruenhagen said. “He instilled basketball knowledge into us as players in the late 80s that just stuck with us and that is still my base and foundation for my coaching style.

“His knowledge of the game and passion for his players is unmatched. Any questions I had about games or practice always came with a complete answer and often specific drills and terminology that he thought would help us,” he said. “He gave me the confidence to be a boys’ head coach by simply believing in me and always told me that basketball, for the most part, is a simple game and not to make it too complicated, and you will do well.”

In addition to his duties with the school, McCune also served as a groundskeeper at Kingsbury Country Club, helping to keep the course a thriving part of the De Smet community.
Family was also a passion for McCune. He enjoyed the companionship with his wife, Vicki, for the past 41-plus years.

The couple had two children — Dustin and Kelsey — and six grandchildren.

After a 100-day stretch at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as part of his cancer battle, McCune was able to return home. In fact he traveled to watch his grandson, Ethan, who was a senior for the Bulldogs, play in the state tournament in Aberdeen. It was the third generation of McCunes to win a state title.  

“Him being at the tournament was a great boost for the boys to see that he was winning his fight with cancer and they knew how much he loved to watch them play,” Gruenhagen said. “Marv coached the juniors and sophomores when they were in junior high and with his grandson, Ethan, being a senior, he was very close to these guys in school every day.

“Many of their fathers had played for Marv and the boys knew how special of a coach and friend he was to them and their families,” he said. “Personally for me, it was a great feeling to see his smile and just to know he was watching us and enjoying being at the gym in person. Marv really believed that this team had that special closeness and teamwork that could reach their goal of a state title after losing that chance last season if we just stuck together and did the work.”



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