Conley leaves a legacy of care

Community Ed athletic boss retires after guiding program for over two decades

 

Last week quietly marked a significant change in the Forest Lake sports scene – the retirement of Tim Conley. As a coach, referee, umpire and longtime Community Education athletic coordinator, Conley has been perhaps the most plugged-in sports fan in the city for the past two-plus decades.

The Tim Conley family at his retirement reception on Wednesday, June 27 at Stella’s on 97. Tim and Cheryl Conley are pictured center, flanked by family members, left to right, brother Dave and wife Debbie Conley, mother Shirley Conley, brother Mike and Linda Conley, niece Erin Beeson, far right (holding Sophia) and her husband, Mark (to her left, holding Nora). Kneeling in front are two of Tim and Cheryl’s three sons, Brian and Chris. Cheryl Conley is holding grandson Christopher Conley. Not pictured is son Shaun Conley. (Photo by Cliff Buchan)

On Friday, the Forest Lake native left the Community Ed office in what today is the Central Learning Center building for the last time, 23 years after taking the post. In between, he forged relationships with thousands of young athletes and built what was a fledgling program into an invaluable resource for local families.

“I’m so thankful for all the kids I’ve had over the years in all my sports,” Conley said during one of his final days on the job. “They’ve been tremendous and I hope to continue with them [through coaching].”

A perfect fit

Community Services officials were looking to bring the athletics programs under one umbrella with the establishment of an athletics coordinator position in 1989, and Conley certainly fit the bill. His father, Jack Conley, was the athletic director at Forest Lake High School from 1968-84 and head basketball coach for 12 years. Tim was a standout on the basketball court and baseball diamond before graduating from here in 1971, and his older brother, Dave, was a star athlete for the Rangers.

The youngest Conley would graduate from Arizona State University, where he met his wife, Cheryl. Following in his dad’s footsteps had always been a goal – Conley’s coaching career began with a Little League team at the age of 12.

After college, he returned home and dabbled in insurance while continuing to coach and work with some of the athletic programs. When the Community Services director at that time, Dan Poepard, offered the coordinator position, Conley jumped at the chance.

“That was really nice. Community Ed was getting bigger. It was about time [for more structure] and he saw that,” Conley says of Poepard. “He gave me that chance, and I tell you, that was really nice.”

Conversely, Poepard saw the same potential in Tim that had made his father such a well-respected athletic director.

Tim Conley instructs the Rangers in a picture from his days as varsity baseball coach. (Photo submitted)

“Tim is a chip off the old block,” Poepard says.

The move proved wise, as participation in the athletic program more than doubled from 116 teams in 1984-85 to 258 by 1992-93. The baseball program, in particular, flourished under Conley’s watch, peaking at over 90 teams. He credits the Twins World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 for drumming up interest. It couldn’t have hurt that Conley became head coach for the Ranger varsity squad in 1986. Before stepping down in 2000, he led what had been a middling program to three state tournament appearances in a span of four years, including a runner-up finish in 1993.

Conley nearly became the head coach for the varsity basketball coach in the early ’80s, and went on to great success coaching the sport at lower levels.

“To me he’s one of the best coaches I’ve seen anywhere in my 40 years around,” Poepard says. “He almost got the high school job and we went through a lot of agony in those years because we didn’t hire him.”

Conley has overseen the addition of several new sports over the years, from soccer to lacrosse, and kept the department strong despite the steep rise of participation in traveling leagues. In fact, several local traveling programs grew their roots in Community Ed under Conley’s watch.

Poepard said Conley’s assistance with traveling programs shows that he has always put the best interests of youth first.

“People don’t know all the stuff around Tim, all of these other pieces,” Poepard says. “Tim cares just as much about tee ball as he does the high school baseball team. He puts the same efforts into that.

“He cares about pretty much these two things: kids and athletics. That’s what he always wanted to do and he does it well.”

Even though the traveling groups have branched out of Community Ed, Conley feels there is still room for all athletic groups to be viable.

Tim Conley, a 1971 Forest Lake High School grad, coaches one of the countless youth teams he has led. (Photo submitted)

“I think we fit in,” he says of the Community Ed programming. “We fill a niche of people that don’t travel or don’t want to go too far from home. I think we’ll always have that.”

The father of three has seen the sports landscape change in other ways, too. Parents are more difficult to work with than they used to be, Conley says, but the vast majority of the countless folks he has worked with has been terrific.

“Forest Lake, I’m proud to come from here, athletically or [otherwise],” he says. “I love it here, and I love the kids here and working here and the area. I know a million people here. A lot of people think it’s a negative place, but I don’t.”

In retirement

Conley will not point to one reason for calling it a career, but says it simply came down to a gut feeling.

“It just seemed like the right time,” the 59-year-old says. “I’m still healthy enough to do reffing and all these other things.”

Indeed, between coaching, reffing and umpiring, free time will still be limited. Plus, Tim and Cheryl are first-time grandparents and their three sons – Shaun, Chris and Brian – all reside in the area.

Conley’s sons are all huge soccer fans. Their dad claims that he has mellowed out, that he does not live and die with each result anymore. Deep down, though, it remains the same for Tim as when he followed his father around the Forest Lake gym in his youth – any game will do.

“What do you say?” he says. “I’m just a total sports nut.”

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