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While I earned my major in English Education at Winona State, I never received a minor degree. I was focused on earning my coaching certification, with my eyes set on being a varsity coach for basketball or baseball someday. I had gotten a taste of coaching after high school when my dad, who coached my summer baseball team, was sick, leaving me to coach our team. I was hooked.

Add to that all the time I spent riding the pine in basketball and baseball, and I had learned a lot by listening to my coaches. I wasn’t inclined to pout for not playing, so I used that experience to gain more knowledge about those sports I so loved. When the opportunity arose to volunteer at the Winona YMCA coaching youth girls’ basketball in 1994, I jumped at it.

That first experience led to two other coaching opportunities while in college. I learned plenty about practice and game management and was happy to become a junior high girls’ coach when I arrived at NRHEG in 1996.

Fast forward to this past season. 2007 was the last time I had coached junior high basketball. After that season, I hung up my whistle to take some time off before my daughter got to the elementary basketball program in 2010. I needed to take a breather, since I knew I’d have to coach differently for 3rd grade girls than I did for 8th graders. Plus, I was enjoying the times I got to announce varsity games and wanted to do more of that.

While I had thought that after my group of girls finished the elementary program, I’d be able to fully retire from coaching basketball, I found that I really, really liked my group of ballplayers and wanted a shot at seeing what we could do with practice every day and having everyone on one team, since we had always evenly split in elementary basketball.

Here’s something of which I’m extremely proud: We started 3rd grade with 18 girls. Two of those moved out of the district, but we still had 13 of those original kids out for basketball this year, plus six more! These girls love basketball and work hard at it. I’m a demanding coach, so it’s a credit to them for sticking through having to listen to me for four years and still wanting to commit to a full season.

We played a number of teams this year that had to use 8th graders at times because they didn’t have enough 7th graders to fully man a team by themselves. They couldn’t believe how many kids NRHEG had and often commented that it was the Carlie Wagner syndrome. I beg to differ. These girls were out for basketball before anybody knew who Carlie was. She certainly helped inspire them as they evolved, but these girls are active in other sports as well, to their credit.

I loved coaching again this year, seeing this team mature and have a lot of “ah-ha” moments on the court. It was gratifying to see support from our bench from girls who didn’t play as much, but were into every game and cheering on their teammates. There were a lot of girls who worked hard at practice, but didn’t always see a lot of the court, but I never saw them sulking on the bench, and I thought often back to my playing days and that same scenario.

The group of parents that I’ve gotten to work with these past five years has been amazing. They’ve been very supportive of the direction we’ve gone. It’s tough to arrange work schedules to make 4:30 games in 7th grade, but the cheering sections we had, even on the road, really helped motivate the girls. Even in places like Morristown and Faribault and Kasson, our crowd was usually bigger than theirs! Our Ellendale gym was as loud as I’ve ever heard it during our home tournament this year!

The best part of this year was having Todd Born at my side again, helping coach this group. He provides such insight into the game, and I was happy to see him honored at a varsity game last week for 40 years of officiating. He’s done so much for Panther basketball through being a good official for our younger levels, and some kids don’t realize it until they experience bad officiating on the road, but I know our girls recognized it this year when he would ref some of our home games. Todd deserves at least as much credit as I get for moving this group of girls in the right direction, maybe even more.

One more year of coaching. That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s an intoxicating occupation, I’ll admit, but I’m very tired. I love the job, but after next year I hope to sit back and watch them develop even more under our high school staff. My job will be done, and I hope it will be well done.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is preternatural, which means beyond what is normal or expected, as in, “The team had a preternatural ability to execute in close games, which gave their coach many gray hairs.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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