Buck Nystrom is the winningest coach in Alaska high school football history, but he was known more for his work with the players he coached than for the number of victories on the scoreboard.
Nystrom posted a 150-88 record during 31 years at Ben Eielson and North Pole high schools. But it was his character and the way he helped mold young men that earned him respect throughout the coaching community.
“I think it was a keystone,’’ said former North Pole player Daryn Colledge, who won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers. “But he had more of an impact in that he was a great guy and a big part of the community in North Pole.’’
Nystrom guided Eielson for 25 seasons, leading the Ravens to the state championship in 1992 — a 28-9 win against Soldotna — when Alaska’s schools played in a single division. Eielson, a school of about 250 students, finished second twice, losing to Bartlett in 1991 and Dimond in 1993. The football field at the school is named for Nystrom.
After two years away from the game due to heart problems, Nystrom returned to the sidelines at North Pole.
In 2004, he took the Patriots to the large-school state title — a 44-13 win over previously unbeaten West Anchorage.
On Sept. 2, 2006, Nystrom recorded a milestone victory — his 150th — while enduring one of the toughest days of his life.
Nystrom, who wore a pacemaker after having heart surgery for arrhythmia, went goose hunting that morning. His defibrillator discharged three times, sending him to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. He spent the afternoon in the emergency room, but that night coached North Pole to a 32-20 win over Wasilla.
It was the last game he ever coached.
Three weeks later, on Sept. 21, Nystrom died from heart surgery complications.
– Danny Martin