Athletics: Hall of fame becomes family affair for Fussys
Brainerd Warriors boys' tennis coach Ellen Fussy one of five to be inducted into Warrior Hall of Fame.
BRAINERD — Reno Fussy is still scratching his head wondering what happened.
A week after learning that her husband would be inducted into the Fridly High School Hall of Fame, Ellen Fussy learned she too would be inducted into her high school athletic hall of fame.
Fussy, along with fellow coach Dave Herath and former athletes Chad Weiss and Sara Wennerstand and former Brainerd athlete and coach Walter Engbretson will be inducted into the Brainerd Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame Monday, May 1, during the All-Sports Banquet at Brainerd High School.
The head coach of the Brainerd Warriors boys’ tennis program was at home when she learned she was being inducted.
“Jack Freeman (Brainerd activities director) called me and I joked with him that perhaps he was calling me to tell me he was building us a tennis dome,” Fussy said eluding to the abundance of snow still hampering practice and competition this season.
“I was speechless,” Fussy said. “He could have knocked me over with a feather. It was very humbling because of all the people that are already in there and all the people that I know personally that are in there. It’s quite an honor to be recognized with those people.”
Fussy’s competitive career started at an early age. She grew up with five brothers and five sisters. She was No. 9 of 11 among the Olson siblings.
She graduated from Brainerd High School in 1981. She was a three-sport athlete competing in tennis, basketball and track and field. She said one of her first athletic mentors was her track and field coach and Brainerd Hall of Famer Mark Embretson.
“The No. 1 credit I have to say was my dad because when I was going to college he told me to take some education courses,” Fussy said. “I was taking business courses. I wanted to open up my own fitness center. But I started taking some education courses and I fell in love with it so he’s the first person I give my props to.
“I had so many people who coached me and mentored me and the first one being Mark. He was a legend in Brainerd. He was my track coach and he was somebody I trusted as an adult.”
Following her graduation from the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse, Fussy returned to Brainerd and began coaching mid-level track and field, volleyball, softball, elementary basketball and gymnastics as well as parks and recreation soccer.
Starting in 1992 she was a member of Brainerd’s tennis coaching staff with Bruce Thompson, Marnie and Chuck Whalen and Jan Costello.
“When I played she was an assistant coach,” Ellen’s youngest son Reno Fussy said. “I got it quite a bit from my teammates about favoritism. All the guys had her as a teacher, too, so that made it a lot easier because they knew how great she was. She had a relationship with all of them, too.”
In 2009 she became the head coach of the girls’ program and promptly led the team to its first state tournament appearance. She would lead the program to state two more times before stepping aside from the head coaching duties.
“I remember when we were going to play St. Cloud Tech to get into state in 2009,” Fussy said. “Tech had been to state multiple times before that. We were walking with the girls before heading onto the court. We were playing inside in Sartell and I just told the girls, “You’ve hit just as many balls as they have. You’ve hit just as many serves as they have. So there is no reason why you can’t win this match.’ I was digging deep to find something that these girls could carry with them onto the court. I was talking to my husband about that and that’s one thing as a coach, you talk so much that you sometimes forget what you say. That’s one of those memories that I still have. I was just so proud of those girls because we hadn’t been to state, but they believed in themselves.”
She became the head boys’ tennis coach in 2020.
“I feel like I’m blessed,” Fussy said. “I joke that I don’t have that many talents, but I do love working with teenagers. I love the energy teenagers bring when you’re around them. I like the unpredictability. You’re not sure what they’re going to say or do. Sometimes you have to steer them in the right direction. I love that energy.”
During the course of fellow hall of famer Bruce Thompson’s coaching career, he employed Fussy as his assistant tennis coach and later became her assistant coach.
“I actually coached her back when she was in high school,” Thompson said. “She was a gritty athlete. She knew how to play and she didn’t back down from anybody. She grew up in a family of 10 other siblings.
“More importantly, she works so well with kids — females, males — it doesn’t matter. She can work with them all and she can make them all feel better. She’s a good educator and a coach. That doesn’t work with everybody, but being the type of educator she is, she is equally as good for girls or boys. She has some really good positives. She’s a good coach because she cares about kids.”
After finding out she was being inducted, Thompson sent her a message saying she would need to reserve three or four tables at the banquet because of the size of her family.
When asked what it means to be a Brainerd High School coach, Fussy was not speechless.
“There is such a rich tradition of dedication,” Fussy said. “I just feel like there is not a better place to coach and teach. I feel very blessed that I was part of that tradition way back when Ron Stolski came into town. He was my athletic director when I was in high school.
“Most people you talk to, if they were involved in athletics at Brainerd High School, they are very proud and enjoy talking about their time there.”
Reno Fussy now coaches girls’ hockey at Brainerd. He said he saw the passion and enjoyment his mother got from it and followed her lead.
“I saw how much she loved it and it is a lot of hard work, but not just during the high school season, but the summers as well,” Reno Fussy said. “She would come home ranting and raving about how little Lilly is getting better and is finally hitting her backhand and stuff like that.
“Me and my brother both kind of started the way she did by coaching summer hockey skills. We got to see how much joy it brought her so that’s how it went for us.”
Reno Fussy couldn’t contain his happiness for his mother and his father, but there was one thing he couldn’t quite figure out.
“You would think between the two of them, they could have raised a Division I athlete,” Reno Fussy said with a laugh. “He got in as an athlete and she’s going in for coaching so one of them dropped the ball.
“I’m extremely proud of her. Having first-hand knowledge of how much work she’s put into it and it’s not something she clocks out when she leaves the tennis court or gym. She takes it home with her. She’s 24-7-365 when she cares about something. It’s really cool that now everyone else can see how much time, effort and work she’s put in.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.