Athletics: Pequot’s Helmrichs talks growing pains and success as Pequot AD
For 14 years, Marc Helmrichs has manned the Pequot Lakes Activities Director position, making him the longest tenured AD in the Brainerd lakes area.
With wife Brenda, Helmrichs has 33 years of sports administration experience with stops in Isle and Hibbing before landing in Pequot.
Here a few of the things that make Helmrichs’ job enjoyable and busy.
Q: You were named the State Class 1A Activities Director of the Year last season, what was it like receiving that honor?
MH: It was an honor and a humbling experience.
Q: I read where you had to learn the job on the fly and now you’ve been doing it for 30 some years. What were those first years like?
MH: I was a full time teacher, coached two sports and was the AD. I did not have an office. My classroom was on the third floor and the only phone (no cellphones in 1987) I could use was on the main level in the high school office. Fortunately for me, Isle was on the four-day week and I spent every “off day” doing the AD work or prepping for class. If it wasn’t for the four-day week I most likely would not have stayed in education.
Q: For those that think they know and for those that don’t have a clue, what does an activities director do?
MH: The easy answer is that you oversee the activities department.
Q: What responsibilities take up most of your day?
MH: A lot of days are spent trying to make sure we have officials for lower level activities and getting ticket takers and game workers lined up. I would say scheduling of events for the next season and the next year is a daily task. I would say the most important responsibility is hiring highly qualified coaches.
Q: You started out in Isle, which is a small 1A school, then went to Hibbing which has bounced back from a 3A to a 2A back to a 3A school and now you’re in Pequot Lakes, which every year inches closer to moving into that 3A bracket. What are some of the growing pains with moving up a class?
MH: If you move up a class that means you were one of the largest schools in your previous class and now you will become one of the smallest in your new class. Being the smallest in a bigger division can certainly be a disadvantage in terms of number of participants.
Q: Just how close is Pequot Lakes from being a 3A school?
MH: If my math is accurate I would say very close. My research indicates that we are the second largest class “A” school in the state in track, fine art, and cross-country. There are currently seven or less schools between us and moving up a class in softball, baseball, boys and girls basketball and football.
Q: As the Pequot Lakes School District continues to grow what are the concerns from a facilities aspect?
MH: We are fortunate that we have a lot of gym space for indoor activities. The challenge is to find enough practice and competition space for our outdoor activities. As our enrollment grows, the participation in our youth and community education activities also increases which puts even more pressure on our outdoor facilities.
Q: In talking with other activities directors, many say their biggest concern is having activities that suit a wide variety of students from athletes to musicians and whatever else. How important is that to you and do you feel Pequot offers enough for its student body?
MH: While you will never have all the activities that everyone wants, I feel we have a lot to offer. We offer 26 varsity athletic programs and have four fine arts programs. We offer more programming than most schools our size. We offer numerous clubs and organizations. I feel you want to balance the number of offerings you have and also make sure that you are able to offer a quality program.
Q: The Minnesota State High School League announced a budget shortfall earlier this season. Are there too many activities or is that not the reason for their issue?
MH: There are several ways to look at this. The multi-class system has certainly made the state tournaments more expensive to run (more games, more officials, etc.). The rent for some state tournament venues is very high in my opinion. I would like to see the League look at ways to generate income through sponsorships and do whatever they can to keep ticket prices from rising.
Q: Pequot Lakes hasn’t had a ton of turnover with its coaching staff. There have been some, but how important is it for the student athletes to have that familiarity with a program and a coach?
MH: Coaching turnover is a concern for most schools. I think having an established coach is a key to a successful program. We are fortunate that our coaches have quite a bit of head coaching experience, even if they are somewhat new to Pequot Lakes.
Q: What are some of the key components to extra-curricular activities that often get overlooked with this get-my-child-a-scholarship mentality that continues to grow each year?
MH: A high school athletic program should not be judged by how many scholarship athletes it produces. As an education-based system we are trying to teach life skills that will translate well after the student is done with Pequot Lakes activities.
Q: What do you and your coaches do to combat this “win-at-all-costs way of thinking” in order to give the student athlete a more well-rounded experience in extra-curricular activities?
MH: Winning is often a product of doing things the right way. Our coaches talk about playing well, improving and playing your best. If all you care about is winning you shouldn’t be working with teenagers.
Q: There are more demands expected on coaches with summer leagues and offseason programs. How hard is it to convince or recruit people to coach or even to stay in coaching after a few years?
MH: It’s tough. The expectations are high and the demands on a coach’s time is great. Coaches have to find a balance that works for them and their team. Deciding how much is too much can be difficult. I feel there are fewer people going into coaching for the reasons you mentioned.
Q: What needs to be done to keep and attract good young coaches?
MH: In a perfect world they get to work with a veteran head coach for several years prior to becoming a head coach. Oftentimes young coaches are put into a head coaching position before they are ready and they become frustrated and get out of the profession before they really had a chance to get started. They need a chance to develop professionally and grow as a person. I don’t care what you do for a living, my guess is you are better at it now that when you started.
Q: We’ve covered a lot of the negative aspects of your job. What are some of the positives. What keeps you excited about going into work after all these years?
MH: While a lot of the job is similar day to day, people always change. New groups of students, coaches and administrators each bring a different twist to the seasons.
I think anytime you do something for the first time in school history that is exciting. Recently our girls tennis team qualified for the state tournament for the first time. Things like that are fun to be involved with. I try to keep in mind that even if we have been to several section final games or state tournaments, for some kids and their families that is their first time. They deserve it to be treated as a big deal.
Q: Because of your job, you work a lot of strange hours, how supportive and understanding has your wife been?
MH: Brenda has been outstanding. She is an educator and has been involved with activities and/or coaching throughout her career. She has filled in as a ticket taker or scorebook keeper countless times over the years. You can’t do this job without an incredibly supportive spouse.
Q: You’re a Deer Creek graduate, not a Wadena-Deer Creek graduate. You had some good high school teams with former Pequot coach Garry Grewe. How good was Deer Creek back in the day?
MH: I would say from the mid ‘70s to the early 80’s Deer Creek put together some pretty good teams. Coach Grewe and I were fortunate to be part of some of those teams. There were only three sports offered and your favorite was the one you were playing at the time. As a kid, you don’t really realize how small of school you are in, you are just there to play. It’s a pretty cool feeling when you come into the gym and it’s packed. The athletes, school and community took a great deal of pride in the athletics at the time. It was great to be part of it. Go Wildcats!