Put Me In Coach: Local youth events help kids grow, learn

MARSHALL – You’d be surprised how many things you can take in during the span of one summer afternoon in Marshall.

This past weekend, youth sports continued to take a big step forward.

The Marshall United Soccer Association hosted the first ever “Southwest Minnesota Soccer Jamboree” Saturday afternoon at the fields by Holy Redeemer School.

Eric Luther, president of the MUSA, was in charge of organizing the tournament that brought teams from all over the southwest part of the state including Tracy, Willmar and Madelia, felt the event got off to a good start.

“We’ve had other tournaments in the past that are geared more toward high school, so this is the first year we’ve had the chance to put on a jamboree that will hopefully put Marshall on the map,” Luther We want to be able to host something like this every year.”

The Association had been contemplating the idea since December and didn’t really know what to expect when the event finally arrived.

“We had a great turnout of 12 teams this year, which is pretty good for the first year,” Luther said. “They’re having fun and that’s the main thing we wanted to accomplish – get teams here so they can play and have fun.”

Luther is very optomistic that soccer will continue to grow in the community, especially once the construction of the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Center

Another event taking place in town this weekend was the Drake Bigler Memorial Invite.

The tournament just started last season and gets some of the best high school and Amateur Athletic Union basketball players from the State playing at SMSU.

The high school event was held on Saturday and spanned four different skill dvisions.

Area teams included the hometown Marshall Tigers, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, Dawson-Boyd, Lakeview and Russell-Tyler-Ruthon.

A portion of the revenue is donated to the “Drake Bigler Memorial” Scholarship as well as the Southwest Minnesota State Athletic Department.

The tournament also exposes some of the top high school players in the area to SMSU’s facilities and gives them a chance to keep competing in the summer.

“The Southwest Minnesota Stars and SMSU spearheaded putting this thing together,” Marshall boys basketball coach Travis Carroll said. “It’s a very good cause as far as where the resources for the tournament are going. Each team is excited to come here and help in any way they can for the cause.”

SMSU is centrally located within the distances of a lot of the area schools, which helps with publicity.

Program Director Ryan Reitsma knows that the location only helps the cause.

“We’re trying to build relationships with the area high school coaches and show them that we want to help their area teams succeed in the offeseason by hosting the tournament with them,” he said.

As many people around the area may be aware of by now, SMSU coach Brad Bigler lost his son, Drake to a drunk driving accident in 2012. Since then, the Biglers have take a strong stand against drunk driving laws in the state.

The family has also set up scholarships and started hosting basketball tournaments in Drake’s honor.

This is where the lesson parts kick in. With all the events going on in Marshall this past weekend, there are valuable lessons to be learned.

Luther’s last line of his last quote is the most important sentence.

Youth sports like soccer are centered around fun and can teach kids lessons on how to play with a team and the trials of winning and losing.

I “retired” from soccer before I hit 13 years old. My last game ended in a 10-0 shutout loss.

While it might be fair to say I “quit” or “gave up” on the game, but it molded my mindset that losses are going to happen, things don’t always go your way.

It also helped me realize that there were other sports and activites that I enjoyed more and had fun doing.

I also saw a good mix of girls playing on boys teams and even saw one match where it was almost an all-boys team against an all-girls team.

Things may be different now, but when I was that age, girls still had “cooties.” Youth sports like soccer can teach kids the valuable lesson that boys and girls (and later, when they grow into men and women), should be treated equally and learn to play on the same team, whether its a playing field or in the workplace.

Only having lived here six months, I feel that it’s a very positive sign that youth sporting events are growing in the community.

We have dedicated parents and volunteers willing to put in the effort and hours to make sure their kids have the best experience possible.

Driving over to the high school where the sport changes and along with the ages and the lessons that can be learned.

Over the six months I’ve been here, I have gained the utmost respect for Brad Bigler and his family and the way Brad coaches his players.

As cliche is this is, Brad prepares his players for life after basketball.

“The Biglers have been huge for the community,” Marshall assistant boys basketball coach Mike Christianson said. “He’s more than just a coach, he’s developing young men into good citizens and that’s huge because the kind of kids he gets to come play here are kids you’d like to see stick around the community.”

Tournament and program directors Ross and Ryan Reitsma are close with the Biglers and were happy the event that means so much to the family has been successful in its young existence.

They had plenty of reasons, aside from the partnership between the AAU program and SMSU.

“Another way we wanted to give back to them and to the college is being able to remember what they’ve gone through,” Ross Reitsma said. “Brad has had a really good impact and has shared his story. It’s just a really good way to continue to remember the situation and for people not to forget what we can learn through that.

“It’s a way to make an impact. We were very close with Brad prior to the accident, but with everything he went through, Ryan and I were there for him and his family and we saw this opportunity.”

Drake Bigler was taken from this world by a man, who, as remorseful as he appeared to be in the wake of the accident, made a bad decision.

The kids playing in the gym at the RA Facility on the SMSU campus are going to have to start making decisions that involve alcohol- especially the ones who just graduated.

It’s hard to get through to 18-year-old kids at times- trust me, I was one once- and at the age of 25, I understand that, at that age, they feel invincible.

They see stories on TV and hear them on the radio about drunk driving accidents, but their minds never localize it.

It CAN happen to them and it can happen to somebody in your family.

My hope is that these kids keep in mind and realize what and who they are playing for.

It’s not to see their town or school’s name farthest to the right on a bracket.

I hope at some point, they really step back, even if its just for a minute, and think about the name of the tournament and its deeper meaning.

They were playing in honor of a child taken from us far too early.

If nothing else, I hope they make smart decisions as they finish high school and head into college and continue their maturation from boys into men.

It’s weekends like these that make me proud to me a member of this community.

I’m seeing events that help these kids grow into more productive members of society and teach them lessons that will have an impact on them throughout their lives.

There were playing fields where “cooties” gave way to cooperation and competition on the hardwood where the name of the tournament hopefully makes teenagers and adults alike think twice before picking up or giving up their keys after a night of fun.

I want to give a shoutout to all the volunteers and workers that make these events happen, and I am looking forward to seeing what else the community has in store in the future.