DAKOTA, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)-There are coaches who establish great relationships with their players and their communities. There are very few who’ve done that at the level that Gary Huenefeld has at Dakota.

Huenefeld has been coaching since the early ’70s. He was Orangeville a few years, then in the fall of 1975 he came to Dakota, and he’s been there ever since.

“He’s a legend here,” said Dakota athletic director Chad Ferguson.

Huenefeld doesn’t coach at the varsity level. He has spent all of his years coaching at the junior high and freshman/sophomore levels.

“My wife tells me all the time the reason I’m able to get along with kids is I’ve never really grown up myself. Maybe there’s something to that,” said Huenefeld”

Huenefeld grew up just outside of Dakota. He graduated from the school in 1967. He was active in high school playing on the basketball team. He wore 50.

He was also active in Vocational Agriculture. Agriculture has been a huge part of his life. It’s also one more reason why he has never moved up to coaching at the varsity level.

“The opportunity was there a few times, but the situation just wasn’t quite right with all I had going on in my life. I’ve farmed in one way or another since 1972. I drove school bus for 44 years, and I was athletic director for 15, so it’s taken a lot of good help from my family members to allow me to do this.”

A few weeks ago Huenefeld won his 800th game. How impressive it that? Only seven varsity boys basketball coaches in the entire history of Illinois have won that many games. The IHSA doesn’t keep track of wins at the lower levels.

“I can tell you when I started back in ’76 that thought (of winning 800 games) never crossed my mind,” said Huenefeld.

Ferguson says Huenefeld rates with the greatest coaches in Dakota history. “We’ve had a lot of great coaches as you know Brian Benning, Pete Alber, Jerry Lano. Just because he’s a fresh-soph coach all these years, he (still) ranks right up there with the best of them.”

As you can imagine, the game has changed a bit since Huenefeld started coaching. He says the three-point shot is the biggest change, and he says coaching has gotten better.

“I just told an opposing coach the other day wins are harder today than they used to be. Coaching is better today than it used to be.”

He has also noticed something else regarding people’s expectations.

“I think the societal changes are so much different. People are not nearly as tolerant today about others today as they used to be, and the focus is so much narrower that they expect immediate gratification, and that very seldom happens.”

There’s been nothing instant about the career Huenefeld has constructed. He has built it one day after another, year after year. So how many more years will he keep at it?

“I think the good Lord will answer that for us.”

Ferguson says the answer to that is up to Huenefeld. “We had a scrimmage with our fifth and sixth graders during halftime last night, and a couple parents, grandparents actually said, ‘Gary, you’ve got to stay until my kid gets through.’ But he kind of said that with a chuckle, so we don’t know. We’re going to let it be on his terms. He’s earned it, and we’re very proud of him.”

How, ultimately does Huenefeld want people from Dakota and elsewhere to remember him?

“That’s kind of a tough one. I guess just as a regular guy who had the opportunity to work with these young people, and hopefully I’ve made the young people better that I’ve worked with, and I’ve had some fun along the way.”