Twenty years ago Jean Martin and six girls were the talk of the Brainerd lakes area. Now the wife, mother of two and teacher talks about what really happened back in 1999 when the Brainerd Warriors girls golf team shocked the state and won the Class 2A State Golf Tournament.
****Q: Tuesday will mark the 20-year anniversary of the Brainerd Warriors' last appearance at the state girls golf meet. Does it feel that long ago?
A: 20 years ago ... My oldest son Joel just finished first grade. I just finished my eighth year of teaching and it was my ninth year as the Warriors head coach. If I look at it that way, yes it was a long time ago. But, I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a memory that I will never forget and neither will our 1999 team.
****Q: Take me back to 1999 and when the season started what were your expectations of that team?
A: Every year we asked the girls to write down their goals. It was something that we did to make them think about what they wanted to get out of their season. I remember that year, almost all of them said going to state would be something they would want to achieve for this particular season. Many of them grew up playing together and dreaming one day they'd go to state. They played on varsity since seventh or eighth grade so if making it to state was their goal, this would be their year.
I believed in them and they probably got sick of me saying "You have the potential to do great things," and if they believed in themselves as much as I did-it would be possible. Their dream came true. It was the first time in our program history to make it to state as a team. Winning state was so amazing.
****Q: Did you know right away you had something special-like state champion special?
A: This was a very special team. One that doesn't come around very often. This group of girls grew up in a golf family. They grew up playing together at a very young age. I remember early on going to Pine Meadows and always seeing them on the course... playing many, many holes. I don't think state champion really crossed their minds. We were very happy to be there. Nobody expected us to win. There were a lot of great teams playing in state that year. We were the true underdogs. I just told them to go play the best they can, have fun and the rest will fall into place. And it did. What an accomplishment.
Q: 1999 was my first year at the Dispatch so tell me what was the 1998 season like and what was the big difference from that year to the next year for that team?
A: Little Falls was the team to beat in 1998. Katie Brenny was a senior, an amazing golfer and they were a really tough team to beat.They won the 2A state tournament that year. That same year Staples-Motley also won the Class 1A tournament. We competed against them many times over the years, which I believe helped us. 1999 was going to be a fun year for us. We had three seniors, two juniors and a sophomore with a lot of experience on the golf course.
Q: We hear a lot about people just being happy to be at state. After you guys qualified, what were the team's expectations and goals for state? Were you guys just happy to be there?
A: Honestly, we were pretty happy just to be there. We just beat a very good Rocori team by one stroke to win our section. Looking at the scores of other sections, maybe a top two or three team if they played their best at the state tournament. I think that the pressure was off of them, because no one expected them to win state. When you play without pressure, then sometimes you relax and play the game you know you are capable of playing. They did just that. We were going down there to represent Brainerd the best we knew how. All their hard work and playing together for so many years seemed to pay off. Which goes to show what you are capable of achieving if you work hard at something.
Q: You grab the first-round lead at Bunker Hills. Back then it was only two classes so you're leading the Class 2A state tournament after Day One. What did you say to the girls to calm their nerves? Was it hard to sleep with a lead?
A: They played great and I was so excited to see Brainerd at the top of the leaderboard after the first day. We shot 346 that day to put us in the lead by six strokes. I believe I told them to go out and play they way they know how. Be calm, relax and just trust their shot and all will be fine. Their confidence was higher than I have ever seen before, so we were good.
Q: The second day of the state tournament got rained out. If I remember correctly, there were a few holes played before the rain came, but the rule is they take the results from just the first day and that's the champion. When they called the second day, did you know the rules and what was going through your head?
A: I was aware of the rule and I really was hoping we could play it out. We were up 11 strokes after 27 holes so we were playing well. Severe thunderstorms delayed the final round and the tournament officials canceled. With only a handful of golfers done, the Minnesota State High School League rule book stated that if not all rounds can be completed the tournament reverts back to the previous day's scores and whomever was leading wins.
***Q: Because the second round wasn't played did it lessen your feeling of winning a state title?
A: Not at all. We actually were playing well before they called it. It was definitely not the first time it happened and will definitely not be the last. You can never control Mother Nature. That is why you play your hearts out from start to finish. You never know what is going to happen on any given day. We won the state title with a group of girls that deserved to win. They showed how hard work and dedication pays off and dreams do come true.
*Q: Talk to me about that group of girls. You had some athletes. You had some golfers. You had a crazy mix of young women. What was it that made them a great team?
A: This team was really special for me. I like that you said we had a crazy mix of girls. They were so fun to be around. Our team consisted of seniors Angie Hanske, Mandy Sheets and Claire Owens. They, along with juniors Marni Lundbohm and Cecilia Meidinger and sophomore Lisa Renneke made up our team. This was a very talented group of girls who played multiple sports throughout their high school careers.
They knew how to compete, practices were fun and they all enjoyed being around each other. The one factor that made this team great was that they played a lot of golf together, some of them since sixth and seventh grade.
Most of the girls came from a family that golfed and that always helps. I believe this particular year was made great because all six of our girls could score well on any given day. Only four scores count, so the girls knew that if they were not having a great round, others would be there to pick them up.
Q: Tell us some of your fondest memories of that year and those girls?
A: Some stats of 1999-we ended up third in the conference behind Rocori and St. Cloud Tech. Marni, Angie, and Lisa were all-conference. Claire, Mandy, and Cecilia were all-conference honorable mention. In only two meets all year we were champions. But some of my fondest memories of this team was not the meets, but how they were always there to pick each other up after the meets, our fun van rides and many memories that were made together every year. I think the girls would agree.
We formed a pretty special bond as a team that year. The bonds that were formed each spring were pretty special, but this year was because they all loved being around each other. These girls made practices fun. A team that came together and were playing their best golf at the end of the season, which is what we all wanted. It just doesn't happen without each others support. We just had so much fun together. I remember long drive contests and putting contests. We made sure our practices were fun, too. Golf is not an easy game that is for sure so we kept it light and fun. I think they liked that.
*Q: Shortly after, you got out of coaching. Do you miss it though?
A: I loved coaching girls golf. I loved coaching. I had the best of both in my profession. I was able to teach 5-10 year olds all day (which I still love to this day) and then work with the older kids teaching them the sports I loved growing up playing.
When I first started teaching, I coached volleyball, basketball and golf. It was a lot of fun. Then we started a family and something had to give. I remember driving home from golf meets late at night and not being home to tuck Joel and Eric in and say goodnight. That was important to me. I started feeling guilty for not being there for them. That is when I knew it was time. Joel was going to be playing eighth grade baseball the following year and Eric was starting to be active in summer baseball as well. I didn't want to miss any more of them growing up and me not being there for them. You can never get those years back.
Do I miss coaching? There are parts that I miss. I miss the young adult conversations and life talks we had. I miss teaching the game of golf. It became a bigger commitment and family has always been important to me.
*Q: You were a great golfer in your own right, does it upset you when some of our area teams can't even fill rosters? What does it take to get girls on the golf course?
A: Tough question. I believe there are many factors that play a part in girls not going out for golf. Golf is a great lifetime activity. My family grew up playing golf and we had some fun times together. I think if families grow up playing golf, or they have friends that play, they will play, too. Golf is not an easy game. You have to play a lot to be good. If they don't put that time in, then they may choose not to play at all because it is a challenging game.
Golf is also a game that can be a challenge financially. I think that the golf courses around the area have made it pretty affordable for kids to play and have welcomed our young golfers with open arms. Without them, we wouldn't be where we are today.
****Q: What advice would you give this year's team as they hope to duplicate the 1999 team?
A: What is most important is to have fun and enjoy the experience. Not many people get a chance to do what you get to do. You have worked hard to get to this point so play with confidence. Golf is not a game of perfect. You need to trust your swing and believe in yourself. Your teammates are counting on you to do your best. Don't let one or two bad holes ruin your day. Every single shot counts. Only take shots that are going to reward you. Don't step up to the ball without having 100% faith in the club that is in your hands and know where it is going. But most of all, relax and play your best.
These moments are the ones you will remember for a lifetime. Go Warriors. Enjoy your time together one last time. Good luck to all of you and have fun.
Q: Your son Eric is staying in the area to play baseball at Central Lakes College. How excited were you about that decision and to have the ability to watch a few more of his games?
A: Tim and I both went to Brainerd Community College (now Central Lakes College). Tim played basketball and baseball and I played volleyball, basketball and golf. It was a great experience for the both of us and I am excited for Eric to have the same kind of opportunity that we had.
A great school with a lot of opportunities and a great education. Eric made the decision to play baseball for Central Lakes College just recently and I am really happy for him. He will have a big fan club attending his home games for sure and he gets to continue playing a game that he loves. That's a win-win for all of us.
Q: Your family is a very active, athletic family whether it's playing YMCA basketball, playing for the Brainerd Bees or beach volleyball. How important have athletics and competition been for your family?
A: Athletics has been a big part of all our lives. Great friendships are gained through sports. Through sports you learn to be a good teammate, develop a positive work ethic, and you learn how to manage time. When you are part of a team, you are a part of something bigger than yourselves. It's not just about you. It's about doing what you can to be successful.
A lot of life lessons are learned through being in sports and that's pretty important. You are not always going to be the best, but if you do your best that is what matters most. I have loved everything about being a part of my many teams, whether it is in sports or work. When you can make teams better because you are a part of it, that is what it's all about-in sports and in life.