Athletics: Picking the brain of Warriors' Campbell

Charlie Campbell is in the middle of his eighth year as the activities director at Brainerd High School. He's witnessed some great successes, like state titles in Alpine skiing and floor hockey, and he's had to deal with difficult issues. At age ...

Brained Warriors Activities Director Charlie Campbell takes a break from boys hockey action Jan. 8 at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Campbell is in his eighth year at Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Bainerd Dispatch
Brained Warriors Activities Director Charlie Campbell takes a break from boys hockey action Jan. 8 at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Campbell is in his eighth year at Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Charlie Campbell is in the middle of his eighth year as the activities director at Brainerd High School.

He's witnessed some great successes, like state titles in Alpine skiing and floor hockey, and he's had to deal with difficult issues.

At age 45, Campbell has spent almost half of his life in education and when he's not creating learning opportunities for the district's students he's busy with his wife Amy raising Katie, 17, Rodney, 15, and George, 13.

Campbell took some time to answer some burning questions facing the Warriors activities department.



Question: After the resignation of former head boys basketball coach Scott Stanfield, you stressed the need to refocus or put more emphasis on how extracurricular activities are an extension of the classroom. What's been done to do that?


Charlie Campbell: There are several layers to this ongoing struggle of reclaiming the space of education-based athletics. First, our coaches are understanding more their need to communicate the purpose of our department and their own transformational personal purpose statements. Our department purpose is to "Develop Grit, Care, Respect, Positivity, Responsibility and Trustworthiness" in our student-athletes. It's important that we understand for ourselves "why" we show up to do this demanding and stressful, yet important work in developing the inner lives of our student-athletes.

It's also critical the kids and parents and community hear and understand why we're showing up every day.

I'm also working to create alignment between our beliefs and our behaviors. For example, as a coaching staff, we continually work on identifying and implementing strategies to intentionally teach and model the core values that we hold most dear. We've also created a job description to use when recruiting and/or hiring coaches into our program. And, my coach evaluation tool is evolving to better align with our department purpose. Additionally, I'm using any opportunity which I'm given to inform and educate our school board, school administrators, parents and community about our activities program to further align our stakeholders with the purpose of education-based activities and athletics.


Q: The Minnesota State High School League talked about adding boys volleyball and girls wrestling to the list of activities it provides. Brainerd just added boys and girls lacrosse, when does it get to the point of there being too many activities for a school district?



CC: Certainly the size of our district can and does support a robust and comprehensive slate of athletics and activities for our students and we're very proud of the Warrior activities program. Your question is poignant and one with which the MSHSL Board of Directors and many (athletic directors) are currently wrestling. Saturation is a concern, even in larger districts like Brainerd. While those activities are worthy activities, there just isn't much demand or support outside of the large metro districts to add those activities at this time.

Even if the MSHSL decides to add them, that doesn't mean Brainerd High School has to offer those activities. Like we did for lacrosse, we'd have to look at student demand and the feasibility of offering and administering such programs-we have finite resources in terms of finances, support staff and the physical spaces in which we can use for teams and programs. We also have to be mindful of equitable opportunity for girls as required by Title IX. We cannot simply add boys volleyball.


Q: With building projects and improvements like the high school swimming pool and other facilities, what are some of the key issues the public should know about these projects coming up and hopefully coming in the future?


CC: It's important to know that Brainerd High School was built 50 years ago and when it opened, I believe there were around 10 sports offered at that time-almost exclusively for boys. Today, we offer a total of 31 varsity sports for students at Brainerd High School. The demands on the high school and other buildings in our district is extraordinary.

Our programs currently use Riverside, Forestview, Franklin, Lincoln, and South Campus. While we will not be able to house all of our athletic teams and programs at BHS after the improvement, we will be able to do much more on the North Campus site, which in turn will free up spaces in other buildings. People will experience our events in an entirely different way. Parking, entering, seating, concessions, etc. will all look and feel different and improved when the project is complete.



Q: You're from the metro, you were previously at Nashwauk-Keewatin, what are some of the unique issues, difficulties Brainerd faces because of its location, population, financial constraints?


CC: Brainerd, because of it's student enrollment, is always placed in the largest classification for tournament play-with football being the only exception-which most often means metro schools. Our unique challenges are playing similar-sized schools and schools with a similar athletic program. Look at Grand Rapids for example. A good-sized school, similar to Brainerd with the number of sports, levels of teams, etc.

There's also the expectation that we play and beat metro area schools consistently as part of our section playoff assignments. The physical size of our district, our free/reduced lunch population and the high percentage of students receiving special education services are often barriers to participation for a lot of kids. So, we aren't much like Maple Grove and St. Michael-Albertville, etc., but we have to play them in many section tournaments to qualify for state. I love the way our kids compete, though. We have tough, competitive, never-back-down kids.


Q: With more and more political issues finding their way into sports like the national anthem protests and gender identity issues what are ways the MSHSL can help area activities directors with dealing with them and/or does Brainerd have policies in place already for dealing with them?


CC: The League does provide some guidance and at times, so does our district administration and/or board policy. I think the best way to deal with those issues is to talk about them head-on. I have incredible colleagues who are wise and helpful and we have smart, passionate, caring coaches in our department. Because we are an education-based program, it's important that we use those political and current issues as launch points for teaching and educating our student-athletes.



Q: You have young kids in the school district. How difficult is it to get to their events while being at all the numerous events in the school district?


CC: I'm fortunate that BHS Principal, Andrea Rusk, has an expectation that the administrative team pitch-in and support me in the supervision of our myriad events. Derek Hendrickson, Forestview Middle School AD/dean of students, also provides some supervision for Warrior events, too. I'm so thankful for their support.

This winter alone, we have 80 varsity events or concerts for which we provide support and supervision; we will likely host additional section contests toward the end of the winter season. The willingness of others to help means that I'm able to see and support my own children's activities pretty well. However, I don't often travel to their out-of-town events and there are conflicts that force me to miss some of their events and activities from time-to-time. There is joy in letting my kids tell me about their experiences without the story being skewed by my lens.


Q: You've had a few coaching hires recently, but for the most part, the Warriors coaching staff, including assistants, has been fairly stable. Is that a fair statement and what would you attribute that to?



CC: It is a fair statement. I feel like that's a question the coaches have to answer-why they choose to stay. I'm not sure we'll ever see the type of tenures across an entire athletic department staff like Brainerd has experienced over the last 30-plus years. We've had so many coaches with a long and successful tenure in Brainerd.

If I had to guess how they'd answer that question, I believe they'd answer by saying they understand and believe strongly in their own transformational purpose; they feel as though they add value to the development of our students-athletes; they are part of a professional organization and are treated and respected as such; they are compensated fairly; they find a special-perhaps magical joy working with young people; they feel supported by the school board and district administration, too.


Q: You haven't been here too long, but what's one sporting memory that you'll also take with you from your time in Brainerd so far?


CC: That's such a tough question to answer. Of course the tournaments are pretty special, but we have so many performances and milestones that maybe aren't newsworthy or flashy; a surprising personal best; a rare or stunning performance by a team or individual that does not win a tournament or game, a note about the classy conduct of our team at a restaurant, gas station or hotel. Those moments really touch my soul and spirit.

The state tournaments are always pretty special, too. No matter the individual or team. Standing out to me are when the Warriors played for the championship in football in 2013, the boys basketball team of 2013 that made the state tournament and played No. 1 Apple Valley (and Tyus Jones) in the first round. The 4 and 3 overtime games vs. Roseau in the girls hockey section finals of 2017 and 2018, respectively. Those marathon games were high-energy, high-stress, back-and-forth contests. The state girls Alpine ski championship, back-to-back adapted floor hockey state championships. I also especially enjoy the way our community turns out to support the Warriors when we qualify for state events.



Q: What changes would you like to see from a state high school league level that would make sense for outstate Minnesota?


CC: The MSHSL has a very difficult task of creating rules, policies and tournaments that create fairness and equity for schools ranging in size from 3,000-plus students in grades 9-12 to less than 30 students. There's a perception that the MSHSL serves the larger metro schools while disregarding the outstate schools like Pillager or Crosby-Ironton or Brainerd. The reality is that changes to bylaws, tournaments and policies rarely change without broad support from rural Minnesota. One area of improvement that I think a lot of outstate folks would appreciate is more rural outreach and physical presence from the league office and its staff. It's a challenging and expensive proposition, but one I believe the league will continue to work towards as it evolves.


Q: When Charlie Campbell isn't working schedules, trying to improve facilities, hiring coaches or attending sporting events, what is he doing? What are his passions?


CC: I really need to develop more hobbies, but I enjoy music, cooking, spending time with special friends and my family, traveling (currently dreaming about a trip west), going to the shack and appreciating the beautiful things of God's creation. Maybe someday I'll fish more and take up golf again. I've heard those are pretty good activities for the Brainerd lakes area.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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