ST. CLOUD -- For years now, Christian Pekarek has been waiting to be called “Coach.”

“It’s the main reason I went into the profession I’m in,” Pekarek said. “I wanted to give back to kids in teaching and also wanted to be a coach. It’s been my dream for a while, having the opportunity to take over a basketball program, to build a relationship with these kids and help them further their lives.”

Pekarek, a 2018 Bemidji State graduate and a former BSU men’s basketball captain, was hired in May as the new head coach of the St. Cloud Tech boys basketball program. The new gig was a long time coming.

“I think every single emotion went through me,” said Pekarek, a Little Falls native and a 2014 Upsala High School grad. “I was humbled to be in that position. Thankful to Tech High School for allowing me to take the position. And excited to be able to work with these young men.”

It won’t be an easy assignment, though, as the Tigers went 3-24 last season and lost in the opening round of the Section 8-3A Tournament. But half of their final 12 losses were by three points or fewer -- including a four-overtime barnburner against section foe Bemidji -- and Pekarek said he’s already witnessed the team on the cusp of improving.

“It starts by the kids wanting to come and them wanting to work,” he said. “It can easily be a program that isn’t successful one year, (and) a lot of people quit and give up. But I’ve seen the total opposite with these guys. … They’re doing so much every day to get better because they don’t want what happened last year.”

And any Bemidji State fans may see some familiarities within a Pekarek-led Tech team.

“I run some of our same offensive stuff, and some of the drills we ran in college that I really liked,” said Pekarek, who ranks fourth on BSU’s all-time assist leaderboard with 297. “There are a lot of good things that our coaching staff at Bemidji did. Not even just on the court, but off the court in terms of grade checks and doing things together as a team, which I’m going to implement over at Tech this coming year. I’m taking a lot of things from our coaching staff and translating them to the high school level right now.”

BSU’s Christian Pekarek looks to pass the ball during a 2017 game against Southwest Minnesota State at the BSU Gymnasium. (Pioneer file photo)
BSU’s Christian Pekarek looks to pass the ball during a 2017 game against Southwest Minnesota State at the BSU Gymnasium. (Pioneer file photo)

For the time being, St. Cloud Tech’s summer workouts emphasize individual drills within groups of 10 -- nine players and a coach -- as the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing alter regular operations. Pekarek hopes that 5-on-5 scrimmages will soon follow suit, where he and his coaching staff can further implement offensive schemes and “change the culture.”

The Tigers last reached the state tournament in 2010, when they reached the Class 4A state championship game as an unseeded Cinderella before losing 76-56 to Twin Cities power Hopkins. Shortly after, just 35 miles down the road, Pekarek rose up in the Upsala program and exited as the school’s all-time leader in points (2,168) and assists (413), while also setting the single-game scoring record of 45 points.

He then spent four years on the shores of Lake Bemidji, where the Beavers improved their conference win totals each season from his freshman year to senior year. After graduation, he taught seventh-grade math at Sartell Middle School and coached the Sabres’ ninth-grade team, as well as coaching the same Minnesota Comets AAU program he once played in.

Now, at 24 years old, Pekarek is transitioning to St. Cloud Tech to teach high school geometry and algebra. And for the big dream that comes with it.

“It’s humbling to me that I’ve been chosen to represent this school, take over the basketball program and to help these kids,” Pekarek said. “I think the biggest thing about coaching, the biggest thing about teaching -- and the biggest thing in life -- is showing people that you care and building that relationship with them. … I’m excited to get rolling.”