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Oak Park just won't be the same without Randy Kusano

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His office in Oak Park High School is smaller than a garden shed but from it, Randy Kusano has helped countless students and athletes grow and bravely face the future.

Whether he was teaching gym class, coaching basketball or holding court with kids who just needed to talk, Kusano's cubby-hole of an office has been a place to meet, share stories and laugh since he first sat down in it in 1976.

Kusano, 58, started at Oak Park the same year it opened and will retire after 34 years as a phys-ed teacher and varsity boys basketball coach when he closes his office door on June 30.

"Kids would have to fight their way to get in there at lunch hour to see him because it's always the place to be," said Darren Klapak, an Oak Park colleague who has known Kusano for 27 years and spent 25 as his assistant coach with the varsity team. "The relationships he's developed with people, I've never seen anything like it in my life. The respect, admiration, the love, and it goes both ways. He's modest, but if anyone deserves to be in the spotlight, it's him."

An education graduate of the University of Manitoba, Kusano was also a member of the only Bisons men's basketball team to win a national championship in 1975-1976. He started teaching and coaching at Oak Park that fall.

"I'm going to miss this place terribly and all the kids even more," Kusano said during an interview in his office, sandwiched between four filing cabinets, a locker, a desk, two chairs and clothes rack holding at least a dozen Oak Park Raiders shirts.

"I guess I'll have to go shopping. All I wear every day is this stuff, shorts, T-shirts, sweatshirts," joked Kusano, who has also served simultaneously as a Bisons assistant coach for the past 15 years. "It (teaching) has been just the best job I could ever have. High school kids are wonderful. They're so funny, they make you laugh every day, they make you cry sometimes, angry sometimes, but it's such a rewarding job seeing kids change and grow up. It's incredible.

"Coaching has been a truly special part of it all. I chose to do it -- crazy hours -- and I overdid it somewhat but it's just a passion I had."

Oak Park's varsity boys basketball team has never had another coach but it will next fall as another Bisons alumni will take over. Jon Lundgren has been hired to teach phys-ed and Kusano will hand him the coaching reins.

"There is no other boys' basketball coach in the history of this province that's won more games than him, tournament championships than him, put more kids in university programs (22) than him but that's all lost on him," Klapak said.

"What really counts to him is the relationships he's developed with students. He still maintains friendships with them as adults."

Oak Park varsity boys' basketball records, which only go back to 1986, show the team's record in that span under Kusano as 703 wins and 152 losses. He won three provincial titles, 11 conference titles and took teams to the provincial Final Four 16 times.

"In the classroom, it's amazing to watch. He's phenomenal in getting kids who hate phys-ed to actually do it and enjoy it. It's his approach, he gets in there with them, he'll be jumping up and down, joking with them, and the kids love it."

Kusano and his wife Andi, married for 36 years and parents to grown daughters Mika, Marla and Marissa, plan to fulfill their dream of travelling to Africa next year.

Kusano joked that teaching has made him rich, not in money but in so many other ways.

"The best advice I'd ever give is just treat people the way you'd like to be treated," Kusano said.

"I'll always remember all the wonderful kids and the great people. I've been really blessed."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Hey Randy, you're not such a bad guy

HERE'S a few excerpts from a Facebook page created in Randy Kusano's honour which shows just a few of many young lives he impacted in over three decades:

 

Aging Hipster: "Thanks for all the instruction over the years Mr.K. Sorry I was always such a terrible athlete. Best wishes in retirement."

Aldo Furlan: "Hey Mr. K! Congrats on your retirement! You've left a long legacy of students who've been influenced and motivated by you. I still remember you shouting at me in X-country to "dig deep and go harder!!"....well I'm still doing the same today. On behalf of my brothers Chris, Mark and I, thanks for being there."

Graham Gordon: "Congrats from the Gordon brothers Mr. K! We have compared the dents in our sternums and you saved the best for last (me). Sorry I left my basketball uniform on the floor that day."

Maija Schell Palmer: "Mr. Kusano -- you are the best! I will never forget you. You had such an impact on so many. The school will not be the same without you."

Luke Keilback: "You're a good man Mr K, enjoy your free time. I have never seen anyone before or since knock down 30-40 free throws in a row. Myself, and 5 lazy friends watched you do just that in '96! Amazing! "

Jocelyne Letain: "Congrats Mr. Kusano! I've been in the military a while and on every run, I think back to you chasing slow people with your black plastic bat...You're one of the good ones :) Jocelyne (class 90)"

Ryan Johnston: "Congrats Mr. K. Remember that time I put the stink bomb in your office and Mr. Brown went in and sat down for 10 minutes before you showed up and pointed out the smell. I always wondered why Mr. Brown stayed sitting in that smell.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2010 D11

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