Honored St. Peter coach builds character

Kristine Goodrich, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·2 min read

Apr. 16—ST. PETER — St. Peter High School teacher and coach Sean Keating arrived to the school gymnasium expecting, like his students, to hear a pre-prom talk about making safe choices.

He admits he was only half listening and was quite bewildered when his name was read and his family members appeared from behind behind bleachers Thursday.

Instead of a lecture, the school and his family had gathered to give him an award accompanied by $15,000.

Keating is one of six educators recognized by the WEM Foundation and the Synergy and Leadership Exchange. The science teacher and boys basketball coach received the annual award recognizing an outstanding coach.

The WEM Foundation is a charitable foundation founded by the late billionaire former Cargill CEO Whitney MacMillan and his wife. The Synergy and Leadership Exchange is a North Mankato-based nonprofit supporting collaboration and education.

Keating had forgotten a colleague had nominated him and he had completed the application for an WEM Outstanding Educator Award several months ago.

"I really didn't see it coming," he said.

The $15,000 comes with no strings attached. The shocked recipient said he'll spend at least part of it taking his wife and three children on a vacation someplace extra special.

In their nomination letters, colleagues and a former student athlete noted Keating's drive to build students' character, improve his teaching and coaching, and to promote mental health.

"He is a coach who truly cares about his players, loves what he does and is always looking to grow and improve as a coach," wrote 2020 grad Wyatt Olson.

"He deeply cares about what and how each student learns and spends significant time researching best practices to make sure he's at his best for his kids," activities director Jordan Paula wrote.

The chemistry and biology teacher developed a mental health science elective class and a before-school club giving tools for coping with stress. In both, Keating said he lets students drive the conversations as he tries to eliminate the stigma of having a mental health concern.

Olson described the club as "a welcoming and open environment where students could help each other grow."

In his eight years of coaching, his Saints have set school records and earned two state tournament berths.

But Keating said he strives to develop deep relationships and teach his players "the score is not what really matters." He focuses on the character traits of empathy, courage and resiliency. His players build snowmen outside nursing homes and do other community service and help run camps for elementary players.

"'Coach K' isn't just coaching basketball, he is building a team of responsible, resilient and ethical young men," School Board member Bill Soderlund Jr. wrote.