Pete's Point: Wheaties was positive booster of Patriot teams
Wayne "Wheaties" Wallin spent almost two months this past summer in a hospital bed at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. He was battling cancer, which eventually took his life on Saturday, Aug. 11.
My last chance to talk with Wheaties came back in June. He was sitting on his bed wearing a hospital gown and a blue Pequot Lakes Patriots baseball cap. Outside his eighth-floor hospital room window was a school ball field.
The combination of the Patriots hat and the ball field really symbolized Wheaties' life.
The cap displayed his dedication to his alma mater where Wheaties was a three-sport athlete before graduating in 1959 when the school nickname was the "Indians."
And the ball field was also fitting since Wheaties was a talented athlete, and especially remembered as a left-handed power hitter at various levels of baseball, including many years playing at the amateur level. Wheaties, an original inductee into the Pequot Lakes High School Athletic Hall of Fame, has continued to follow area sports for more than 40 years as a writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.
As a reporter, Wheaties liked covering all activities - not showing favoritism for boys sports over girls or varsity games over junior high activities.
Each week during the school year Wheaties would submit handwritten sports stories filled with game details and accurate spellings of thousands of athletes' names. After all, he knew the names because he knew most of the players.
"Everyone knew Wheaties," said Garry Grewe, a former Pequot Lakes Middle School teacher and basketball coach who is now in the Perham School District. "If he wasn't (at the game), the kids would ask about him. There were times when he arrived in the gym before our team showed up. He made friends with my mom and dad, and he was also kind to my kids (Teresa and Joshua)."
Wheaties also "liked getting to know" the game officials, said Monica Sergent, a Pequot Lakes tennis and softball coach.
"He was friendly to everyone he met," she said. "He would get that twinkle in his eye and greet you warmly with his trademark, 'Whaddya know?' So many of us will miss him. Wheaties was a special guy."
The Pequot Lakes coaches who worked with Wheaties admired his positive attitude.
"No matter how poorly the kids played, he never said or wrote a bad word," Grewe said. "He was a positive individual and the kids loved him."
Pequot Lakes Activities Director Marc Helmrichs agreed.
"The coaches loved him and he was always positive," Helmrichs said. "He represented all that is good about high school athletics. Covering our teams wasn't a job or a task. He had a passion for it. He really cared."
I enjoyed riding with Wheaties to some of the Pequot Lakes playoff games over the past dozen years. On our trips home, Wheaties didn't hide his enthusiasm after a Patriot victory or heartbreak after a season-ending loss.
Wheaties estimated that he covered well over a thousand Pequot Lakes sporting events in four decades.
And, although he was starting to struggle with his memory during our last visit in the hospital, Wheaties did manage a smile as we reminisced about some of his many favorite athletes and moments covering the Patriots. He especially remembered some of the state basketball appearances - like the Patriot girls finishing second in 2005 or the boys placing third in 2006.
"I enjoyed them all," Wheaties said as we concluded our discussion about past Pequot Lakes teams.
After overhearing our conversation, one of Wheaties' nurses asked me, "Was he a coach?"
I told her: "Wheaties did some coaching, but he was also a talented athlete and then a sports writer for more than 40 years. He was outgoing and many people knew Wheaties."
I added: "If you ever travel up to Pequot Lakes or Nisswa, just mention the name 'Wheaties Wallin' and they will probably know who you're talking about."
One of the people who knew Wheaties was Bret Sergent, a longtime Pequot Lakes coach who often invited Wheaties to ride on the team bus to softball games.
"I will miss Wheaties sitting behind the backstop and keeping a scorebook at the games," he said. "Wheaties wasn't just a writer, he was a Pequot Lakes Patriot, and he was my friend."