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Red Wing to rename football field after ailing coach

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RED WING — The Red Wing School Board appears poised to rename its high school football field after an ailing former coach who dedicated 41 years to the program.

Red Wing Superintendent Karsten Anderson has scheduled a special school board meeting for 7 a.m. Friday. The "sole topic" is to rename Red Wing High School Athletic Field to Russ Marshall Memorial Field, Anderson said Tuesday evening via email.

Jamie Marshall, one of Russ Marshall's two daughters, said Anderson visited their home Tuesday evening to inform the family that the field would be renamed after her father; Friday's school board meeting will make that decision official. It would become the first athletic facility in the district to be named after a coach.

Russ Marshall became an iconic figure within the Red Wing community after four decades of coaching and teaching. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January.

"There are no words to express how much our family, and my dad, appreciate your encouragement," Jamie wrote to family and friends who signed an online petition to dedicate the field in his honor. "As you can imagine, he just wishes he was stronger to be able to thank everyone in person."

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Though Marshall was never the head football coach, he's being hailed as a "maker of men" by many former student-athletes. His larger-than-life persona and throwback techniques served as a personal proving ground for generations.

"The thing I think about with Russ, especially for men in Red Wing, is he was a rite of passage," Red Wing Athletic Director Matt Schultz said. "He's one of those coaches you talk about 50 years from now when the guys get together."

Winger graduate Dwight Diercks added: "I'm sure these times are not pleasant, but hope that you get many good days ahead of you to be with your family and friends. And know that when the time comes, you have influenced many a generation to be better men for tomorrow. You are, and have been, an excellent maker of men."

The petition collected more than 1,100 online signatures in less than 24 hours, and six local businesses began collecting physical signatures on Tuesday thanks to an effort set up by Marshall's family and friends.

Another 350-plus emails have poured in to an account set up to share memories of the man affectionately called Cougar. Many of the so-called Marshallisms are not fit to be printed, but his candor and locker room humor endeared him to thousands.

"We learned, we laughed, and we knew that you cared about each and every one of us," said Winger graduate John Pohl, who starred for the Gophers men's hockey team.

The request to rename the field in Marshall's honor was first made in January, shortly after Marshall was diagnosed with cancer. After initial efforts were rebuffed by the district, the tone became more urgent as Marshall's health declined.

The man with the booming voice now communicates in a whisper while spending most of his days in bed. Marshall's family expects he'll enjoy the first game at the renamed field — Aug. 28 against Northfield — from "the best seats in the house."

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One of his last acts before becoming bedridden was escorting his daughter down the aisle at her May 23 wedding.

"We pumped him full of drugs and he was able to walk me down the aisle," Jamie said, tears streaming. "It was really special."

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