PERHAM, Minn. — Bob Wilkowski took a second to try to remember how old he was when asked last week. The former Perham High School football player, coach and administrator turned to his wife, Carol, and asked if he was 72 or 73. The two met in 1967 when Bob was a punter and wide receiver for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She was a freshman and he was on campus early for his fifth season of football. They've been together ever since.
Carol reminded Bob he was 73.
Bob may have difficulty remembering his age from time to time, but he'll never forget the feeling of the football off his foot on his 82-yard punt in 1961 when he was a junior at Perham.
"It was just one of those that hit the foot the right way," Bob said. "I can still remember the spiral coming off my foot and it just went up and up and up. It was like it was going over a hill and down it came and it hit the ground and probably rolled 25 yards."
He also remembers how his Perham teammates felt about chasing it.
"The ends were so damn mad," Bob said. "They said, 'Why'd you have to kick it so far?'"
The kick happened Oct. 6, 1961, in a 13-12 loss to Elbow Lake, but it wasn't until last week that it became part of the record books. Ron Berns has been keeping stats for the Perham football team since 1977. He was going through the numbers from this football season to see where the career numbers of quarterback Jenson Beachy stood among some of the historical numbers when he stumbled upon Bob's punt.
Berns' website www.bernsinfo.com is a treasure trove of Perham football stats. He randomly has been selecting different years to update information via the notes of coaches, athletic directors and newspaper articles. He came upon an article from the Perham Enterprise Bulletin, now the Perham Focus, that mentioned Wilkowski's 82-yard punt.
"You can get lost for hours on his website," Perham football coach Kyle Knutson said. "Jenson made it in like six categories on the Minnesota Football Coaches Association's list. He mentioned he saw Bob's punt wasn't listed, so I filled out the form and sent in the newspaper article."
Forms were sent and the newspaper article was enough evidence for the MSHSL and coaches association to add Bob to the list.
Bob's punt is third in Minnesota high school football history at the moment. Mac Brown, who is currently punting at Ole Miss, had an 87-yard punt with St. Thomas Academy in 2015, as did John Broback with Rosemount in 2005.
"He only told me he had a really long punt once, but he never mentioned that it was that far," Carol said. "He was very modest apparently."
Bob first started punting in Oakland, Calif., when he was young. He moved back and forth from Perham to Oakland in elementary school before coming to Perham for good before high school. He and his friends used to play a game in the street in Oakland to see who could kick the football the furthest. A kick that went down the block to the intersection was worth a point.
That's where his love began.
"The thing about it was it was something that you controlled," Bob said. "I was a receiver most of my life, so the quarterback controlled how the ball was being thrown. I only controlled the catch. As a punter, I controlled the way of kicking the ball and how far it was going to go and what direction I wanted to go. There's not too many positions in any sport you have complete control of what's going to happen."
Bob came back to Perham in 1968, taught for a year and was drafted in the Marines. He served for two years and returned to Perham to coach, teach, serve as principal and athletic director for more than two decades. He didn't get too far from sports after leaving teaching, selling scoreboards to a lot of the area schools with Daktronics.
"Sports have meant everything to him, it really has," Carol said. "It's give him so many opportunities and certainly developed him as a person. People still recognize him in the community, and he rarely doesn't run into someone he knows when we travel because of sports.
"Because of his sports background, when he was coaching and athletic director and assistant principal, he was able to relate to kids struggling. I think he was a good mentor to a lot of students because of that."
Bob still plays basketball three days a week, full-court at noon. He and Carol are still in Perham, where they both enjoy their granddaughters and grandson any chance they get.
And, of course, he can be spotted at Perham games.
"Having coached basketball and football, playing baseball, you just know everyone up and down Highway 10," Bob said. "From Dilworth to Staples to Park Rapids and Bagley to Elbow Lake., you come across all these individuals. Some of the kids now, I coached their grandfathers.
"I've always had that feeling being involved in athletics. There isn't a time I can say I haven't been involved with athletics. Even when I was in the Marine Corps, I was on that basketball team. I've just always had fun with people involved in athletics because they understand what's going on, they understand competition."