The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

Old habits can be hard to break. Just ask Mark Courtney. For the past 45 years, Courtney has been the glue holding everything together for the 56 grade schools that make up the Catholic Athletic Association (CAA) in his role as the nonprofit organization’s athletic director. That has meant taking care of everything from organizing and leading meetings with the individual schools’ athletic directors, to securing fields to play softball, baseball and soccer games, to roping retired high school and college officials into handling grade school contests. 

In theory, all that was supposed to change on June 30 when Courtney officially retired from the organization. Yet a couple of days later, there was Courtney helping to oversee one of the association’s biggest fundraising events of the year—its annual golf tournament.

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Apparently, he wasn’t buying U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s famous recitation of the lines from an old army ballad: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” 

Courtney’s former duties will be mainly split up between two people. Ilse Larsen will take over as director of operations and Steve Schneider will handle the task of finding officials to work the 10 sports the grade schools take part in. It was the combination of getting older and keeping up with what’s become a rapidly changing and challenging athletic environment that caused Courtney, who will turn 69 in September, to step down.


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As it turns out, his history with the CAA goes back well before he became the sixth person to run the administrative side of things. When he was a senior reserve on the basketball team at then-Cretin High School, Courtney and teammate Jack Peick were recruited by then-Raiders head coach Len Horyza to referee grade school games. As often happens in such ventures, Courtney fell in love with officiating and stayed at it for another four-plus decades before giving it up a few years ago.

Mark Courtney
Mark Courtney

When not supervising a tournament, Courtney was scheduling an estimated 125,000 sports competitions and using his contacts to find facilities to play them at. When it came to a sport in which he had little expertise, Courtney went out and found help. So it was that swimming went from an embryonic stage when meets were held at Hamline or the old Saint Catherine pool to a full-fledged spectacular that starts at the Omni Swim Club and finishes with a two-night showcase at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s the only sport we have that runs from grades K-8,” Courtney said. “I know what I don’t know, so I turned swimming over to Dave Hulit and his daughter, Lindsey. We’ve had as many as 1,000 kids in a single year involved in the state meet. It’s worked out great.”

Money, of course, is always an issue. Schools either pay a fee for a team to play or—in the case of cross country, track, swimming and golf—an individual competitor. The CAA’s golf tournament and its annual Hall of Fame celebration (which is coming up on October 4 at Mendakota Country Club) are the main fundraisers to help kids keep playing. But these days finding and paying officials has become the CAA’s main challenge.

“We’ve had to raise fees a bit,” Courtney conceded. “Soccer, softball and baseball are our toughest ones because everybody seems to be playing those sports at the same time.”

So what does a guy who has spent more than half his life on the job plan to do with his newly found spare time this winter? “I have a friend in Hawaii who has been inviting me for years to come visit him,” Courtney said with a smile. “I also have a friend in Arizona who’s made the same offer. I could never do that before.”

Hockey is also a challenge. Many CAA hockey games are played outside, though the league does play inside the Augsburg Ice Arena a couple of times a year.

So what does a guy who has spent more than half his life on the job plan to do with his newly found spare time this winter? “I have a friend in Hawaii who has been inviting me for years to come visit him,” Courtney said with a smile. “I also have a friend in Arizona who’s made the same offer. I could never do that before.”

However, should Larsen or Schneider need a helping hand on occasion, Courtney said he can clear the decks for a while. “I’ll be around to help if and wherever they need me to,” he said.

Baseball is a bumpy ride

If you ever needed evidence that a Major League Baseball season can test a fan’s emotional health, consider what’s been happening this month.

One afternoon in early July, a fellow on vacation in Nevada found himself ensconced in front of several televisions while taking a break from doing battle with the machines at a casino. Several baseball games were being aired. The Central Division race could be watched on two sets next to each other. On one of them, things were going well for the local partisans because the fourth-place Detroit Tigers were knocking the Cleveland Guardians all over Comerica Park en route to a sweep of a doubleheader. On another set, the Minnesota Twins were taking advantage of some Marx Brothers-like baserunning antics by the Chicago White Sox and used a three-run 10th inning for a win that extended their lead in the division.

The next afternoon history repeated itself. The Twins bashed five home runs in an easy 8-2 win. The Tigers buried the Guardians 11-4, stretching Minnesota’s lead to 4½ games. The next day saw the Minnesota bullpen self-destruct in a 10-inning loss. But that despair was offset because the Tigers knocked Cleveland around again.

A Friday loss by Minnesota at Texas was annoying, but both Cleveland and Chicago went down as well. The next day saw Twins starter Devin Smelter fail to hold a 6-3 lead in another loss to the Rangers, while both Chicago and Cleveland won decisively.

Fast forward to the next weekend. The White Sox suddenly had figured out how to run the bases at Target Field. The Twins’ hitting and fielding were nowhere to be seen. The visitors won three of four games, finishing with a flurry in an 11-0 win and Minnesota’s lead at the All-Star Game break was down to just two games.

You get the idea. Every game has now become an adventure. Or as Yogi Berra once observed, “In baseball, you don’t know nothin’.” The rest of the month was equally haphazard. As this was being written, the Twins’ lead in the Central Division was a slim 1½ games.

There are two months to go in the season. By the time you read this, we’ll know if the Twins made any late moves to get pitching, hitting or fielding help. It’s been a while since we were in a full-fledged pennant race around here. It’s the type of race where you watch the out-of-town scoreboard for the Chicago and Cleveland games, and where you mutter an expletive when Byron Buxton is not in the starting lineup or when a relief pitcher comes in to protect a one-run lead and walks the first batter he faces.

Football doesn’t offer that kind of daily agony and ecstasy, and basketball and hockey have days off to ponder the previous game.

So consider this a quick reminder that the next two months is precisely why baseball fans patiently endure winter, waiting for the warmer weather to return. Just remember to have plenty of Pepto Bismol on hand. 

Dave Wright can be reached at


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