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Coaches and administrators remember East Grand Forks' Dave Aker for his impact on area athletes

Aker, 66, died last Saturday in Rochester, Minn. Aker coached football at East Grand Forks Sacred Heart, baseball with the East Grand Forks American Legion and girls basketball at Climax-Fisher.

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Dave Aker, seen here in a family photo calling in a box score to the Grand Forks Herald, coached a number of sports in East Grand Forks and the surrounding area. He also worked for the EGF Parks & Recreation Department for more than 40 years.
Submitted photo.
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EAST GRAND FORKS — In 1992, Dave Aker was girls basketball coach at Fisher High School (Minn.) and Mike Marek was coaching at East Grand Forks Sacred Heart.

Before a section tournament game, Aker told Marek his No. 8 seed Fisher was going to beat No. 1 East Grand Forks.

"I remember (Fisher) got crushed a couple of times by East Grand Forks during the season," Marek said. "They had lost by like 20-30 points.

"Sure enough, we're getting ready to play after their game and Fisher was ahead at halftime. That was unheard of. We came out to watch the end of the game and Dave was jumping out of his clothes he was so excited. He came down to us and was yelling 'I knew we could do it.' I was, like, get back to the bench, you're going to get a technical."

That passion for coaching, and the ability to get the most out of his athletes, are some of the lasting memories of Dave Aker for former area coaches and administrators.

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Aker, 66, died last Saturday in Rochester, Minn.

"He was a magician," Marek said. "He could get his players to believe anything. He had a nickel with two heads on it. He was a great leader of getting kids to believe in themselves when they didn't think they could."

Aker worked for the city of East Grand Forks Parks and Recreation Department for more than 40 years. After serving many years as a seasonal worker, he was the department's supervisor from 1994 to 2006, then received the title of superintendent from 2006 to his retirement in 2016.

Aker coached Sacred Heart football in two stints as head coach from 1987 to 1995 and again from 2003 to 2007. He was also an assistant coach with the program in other seasons. In 1991, his team reached the section championship game.

"The list of people he impacted would be very immense," said Phillip Meyer, a former Sacred Heart football coach, athletic director and longtime principal. "I think he's to be credited for that. I don't know if he had a mean bone in his body. When he and I interacted, it was jovial. Besides being an authentic coach, he was a sincere individual. He was straight-forward with you. Some people can be devious, that was not Dave. I have a warm feeling in my heart for the time I had with him."

For many of those Sacred Heart football years, Darrin West was Aker's assistant. When West, who started with Aker in 1987, eventually took the head coaching job after Aker stepped down in 1995, Aker joined West as an assistant.

"Through the years, we spent mountains of hours with Dave and his family through coaching and scouting," West said. "He really believed in scouting. We would go to games afternoon or night. He really did a nice job scouting and then communicating that to his players.

"We both had such an interest in all sports that we really kicked it off. If there was an event somewhere, we were there. Him and his family became almost my second family."

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Aker coached the East Grand Forks American Legion baseball team for 17 seasons from 1978 to 1995. His 1985 Legion team went to the state tournament.

When Aker was done coaching East Grand Forks baseball, his successor was one of his former players in Steve Gust, now head baseball coach at NCAA Division II Minnesota-Crookston.

"He expected a lot from you," Gust said. "He wasn't an easy coach to play for. He demanded excellence and a work ethic and being on time and all those things great coaches do.

"Once you were in with him, you were in with him forever. The relationships he had with all of his athletes, not only when they played for him, but years after, he really cared for the people who played for him."

Aker was also a head girls basketball coach at Fisher and for the co-op Climax-Fisher in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was an assistant coach with Climax-Fisher in 1993 when the team won Section 8A and competed at state.

Aker was also inducted into the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Hall of Fame in 2021.

"Coaching against him was always tough," Marek said. "It was a secret challenge inside of us. If we could out-maneuver the other, that could be a feather in our hat. It was never spoken outwardly but inwardly, we felt that way. If you beat a Dave team, you knew you accomplished something."

Gust remembers how everywhere he and Aker went, people knew Aker.

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"He's a guy who was one of the most popular figures in East Grand Forks and the surrounding areas," Gust said. "With all the kids he coached in different sports ... and as the recreation supervisor where he hired a lot of other students throughout the years, he had an influence on a lot of people and a good influence. When I hung around with him, everywhere we'd go, everyone said 'Hey, Akes.' Whether it was Thief River Falls or Roseau or East Side, he had a big influence on a lot of people."

Aker was married to his wife of more than 35 years, Faye. They had two girls, Rachel and Becca.

"I'm going to miss him, but he sure left an impression on me, and I learned so many things from him," West said. "He opened a lot of doors for me. I can't thank him enough for the great times and memories he gave me."

Related Topics: SACRED HEART
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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