BSU at 100: Erickson’s coaching lives on in BSTC lore

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Jolly Erickson spent 17 years on the Bemidji State sidelines, coaching football, basketball, track, tennis and golf throughout his tenure. (BSU photo)
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With a quick scan through the coaching history of Bemidji State athletics, one cheerful name is bound to pop up in more places than not.

Hjalmer “Jolly” Erickson became a do-it-all coach for Bemidji State Teachers College after he first stepped on campus in the 1930s, earning the nickname “Mr. Athletics” with 17 years of experience on the Beaver sidelines.

Most notably, Erickson coached the football program from 1938-1954 and racked up 53 victories, a then-program record that still stands as second best today. On the hardwood, Erickson coached the men’s basketball team in 1944-45 and 1945-46, where he compiled a 23-6 record and cemented a still-standing program best for winning percentage (.793).

The Moorhead native also coached track, tennis and golf at different times during his tenure at BSTC.

Erickson originated the Beaver Relays track event, which is still an annual showcase today, and he held coaching clinics in Bemidji that attracted the likes of coaching legends Adolph Rupp and Vince Lombardi, among others.


Erickson also pioneered the football program through the World War II days, a rarity in the region.

Bemidji Teachers was the only Minnesota Teachers College to continue to football program throughout the war as others temporarily suspended their teams due to a lack of available men on campus.

The Beavers went 4-0 in 1944, beating Eau Claire (Wis.) and Concordia College twice each. BSTC was one of 15 undefeated teams in the nation, and the season remains the program’s lone undefeated and untied season.

Erickson gave up coaching in 1954 due to health. He died of a heart attack in 1959 at the age of 53.

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Micah Friez is the sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he joined the Pioneer in 2015 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.
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