The Prior Lake football team has won a lot of games over the last 13 years, including earning four berths into the Class 6A state tournament since 2011.
The program has also been successful off the field in part by the efforts of Paul Schons, who was the director of the Touchdown Club for 13 years before recently stepping down from that post.
Schons role as director has coincided with Matt Gegenheimer’s tenure as the varsity coach. Schons started when his oldest son, Paul Jr., was a sophomore in 2008.
“I attended one meeting just to see what it was all about,” Schons said. “Little did I know that Coach Gegenheimer would ask me to take on the director role and that I would hold that role for 13 years.
“It ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.” Schons added. “The experience of creating an incredible football program and an awesome high school experience for the kids is what it was all about. I think I got as much out of it as the kids did.”
When Schons began his tenure, the Touchdown Club was $8,000 in debt, the equipment was old, the synthetic turf now was grass and there were not a lot of programs in place.
Schons helped develop family and business memberships to help raise money to alleviate the club’s debt.
“Livin’ Right was another program that we are very proud of.” Schons said. “This came to be in 2009 when there were a lot of issues with some kids making some bad social decisions. Matt and I developed a culture program that really helped the kids avoid peer pressure and make better choices.”
The new electronic scoreboard at Dan Patch Field also went up in Schon’s tenure. The Touchdown Club has funded six new storage sheds, added technology to the sideline press box and used drones to film practice sessions.
In 2010, the first scholarship was created by the Touchdown Club, which is given to three athletes per year.
“We have given out over $15,000 in scholarships to seniors in the last 10 years,” Schons said. “We have also been involved in the Randy Shaver Tackle Cancer Fund and have raised just over $75,000 to help fight cancer.”
The Prior Lake Athletics for Youth programs have also benefited. Providing opportunities for more kids to play football at all levels is one thing Schons is proud of in his tenure.
“There were several years that seniors who never stepped on to the field tracked me down at the last game of the season to tell me how it was the greatest experience of their life,” Schons said. “And they will never forget the Friday nights under the lights and the relationships they made.”
Prior Lake joined the top class in football in 2004. There were some tough seasons early on as the Lakers’ program was growing and trying to position itself to compete with the elite programs in the state.
The Lakers won just one playoff game in the first eight seasons in the top class. The program finally broke through earning a state berth in 2011, and getting back there again the next year, as well as in 2014 and in 2017.
Schons has had four sons play or are playing for the Lakers, all interior lineman, centers. Joey was a sophomore on the 2012 state team and a senior on 2014 squad. Zack graduated in 2017, while David is a junior.
Schons believes it’s important for parents and community to be involved in some form in Prior Lake’s programs.
“Through the years we developed a strong relationship with the cheer, dance, band, and even the theater,” Schons said. “We had a parent donate the inflatable helmet and tunnel that we use in pregame and Dave Tuma jumped right in. The next thing you knew we had fog, lights and pyro.
“Every year, when we kick off a new season, I let the parents get involved as much as possible and they don’t miss a thing, Schons added. “Football is a special sport and the friendship and relationships are built so strong not only between the kids, but the parents as well.
“Our football games are truly a community event and it’s so awesome to see a packed stadium every night.”
Schons now has the title of Touchdown Club advisor. Matt Sterm has taken over as director.