Gymnasts move on, taking ‘a piece of Shetka’ with them

Members of the New Prague gymnastics team shared tears and laughter while former New Prague assistant coach Craig Sundberg spoke about his memories of Coach Matt Shetka after Tuesday’s varsity meet. (Chuck Kajer Photo)

Tuesday evening was an emotional night at the New Prague Gymnastics Center, when the New Prague Trojans faced their first meet in 33 years without Matt Shetka as the head coach.

Shetka, 54, died last week of an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow in front of his home.

The meet included a few traditions for New Prague gymnastics. Last year the team started the tradition of wearing “Ugly Christmas Sweaters” for the last home meet before Christmas, and as the athletes filed into the gym for introductions, both teams, Waconia and New Prague, wore sweaters for the occasion.

Following a moment of silence, the New Prague High School Show Choir Emotion sang the national anthem.

The meet went on as scheduled, with the Trojans winning by 10 points, scoring 142.075.

After the meet, it was time for some tears and smiles. Craig Sundberg, a former New Prague teacher and Shetka’s assistant coach in the 1980s, spoke. Sundberg, now a retired school administrator, was one of the judges for the meet, and he recalled taking over the program with Shetka in 1980.

“We took over a program that had just recently gotten off the ground. As coaches we weren’t very experienced or very skilled, but we were excited to think where it would take us… We had absolutely no idea the ride we were in for. "

“The dynamics changed 30 years ago, when tiny New Prague surprised everyone by beating a much favored Burnsville team for the Section Championship to go to state in 1983, and again in 1984 when we won the State Class AA title." 

He talked about Shetka’s dedication, and his way of motivating athletes. Addressing this year’s team, he said that each of them carried a piece of Shetka with them, and that when things get tough, when they need encouragement or motivation, to use those memories to help them move foward.

At the conclusion, he called three of Shetka’s sons who were at the meet, Zack, Aaron and Danny, to come forward. After sharing a hug with them, he presented them with a gift on behalf of the Minnesota Gymnastics Officials Association.