Tracy-Milroy-Balaton track and field team was the cream that rose to the top in the area in the mid-1990s, winning multiple sub-section titles and repeatedly qualifying for the True Team State Meet, with the high point coming in 1995 when the TMB girls captured the school’s first section championship.
And Al Landa saw it all. In fact, he did more than see it, he coached it.
Landa, an Industrial Technology teacher in the Tracy Area Public School District for 33 years and longtime track and football coach, died last Thursday at the age of 81. According to his obituary, Landa was vacationing in Branson, MO, when he started to experience breathing issues. He was brought to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, where he passed away.
Gale Otto, the winningest football coach in school history, walked the sidelines in Tracy for 28 years, and Landa was his defensive coordinator and line coach for many of them.
“He was loved by just about every kid that I can remember,” Otto said. “He really loved the kids. Al was a very intense coach — he could holler at you as much as praise you, and I think the kids knew that he loved and respected them. He was doing it for them. He just had a great rapport with the boys, as well as the girls in track.”
Otto said Landa’s coaching style was a blend of tough love, strictness and kindness. Each aspect of Landa’s persona, Otto said, allowed him to get the most out of his charges.
“He just treated everybody fairly,” said Otto. “He was a hard person, but he had a big heart, and there’s no doubt he enjoyed coaching. I know it was hard for him when he decided to quit coaching. I saw the guy in tears at times when things went bad, and he could also be very happy and joyous.”
Kris (DeRuyck) Munger, who as a sophomore was a member of the 1995 girls’ record-setting 4×400 meter relay team that won the Section 3A title, said Landa had a kind and huge heart.
“He kind of wore his heart on his sleeve,” Munger said. “All coaches want to get the most out of you, but he just had a kind, loving way of doing it.”
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