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Coach Holmberg reaches 500 mark

Head coach of the Morris Area / Chokio-Alberta softball team, Mary Holmberg, got her 500th career win last Friday, April 25 in a 12-9 victory over Yellow Medicine East in Chokio. (Photo submitted)1 / 2
Thanks to Mary Asche and Sharon Martin, Holmberg was honored at a get together that included many softball alumni last Saturday evening. (Photo submitted)2 / 2

Morris Area / Chokio-Alberta head coach Mary Holmberg has been with the softball program since its inception in 1980. Now in her 34th season as head coach, Holmberg has reached yet another milestone, one that just six Minnesota softball coaches have reached in their coaching careers… her 500th win.

The milestone was achieved on Friday, April 25 against Yellow Medicine East in Chokio, a close 12-9 victory for the Tigers. After the win, Holmberg got doused shower style with the team cooler full of ice water. The girls also made posters, knowing the big day would come soon after this season started, only needing five wins after racking up the tally to 495 at the end of last season.

“I had no idea the girls knew,” Holmberg said in surprise. “In one of the last innings, I remember telling Dean [Meischner] to grab the game ball, not giving him a reason because I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but I had no idea what the girls had planned. The celebrations are fun because the players, past and present, are a big part of it. They were the ones that played the game.”

Holmberg was also honored last Saturday evening at a gathering that included many softball alumni, thanks to Mary Asche and Sharon Martin.

Holmberg is the first woman softball coach to reach the 500 win mark in Minnesota. She adds this honor to her already stacked resume.

Her career record as of Thursday morning is a sparkling 502-233; her 34 seasons include six state tournament trips, four in a row from ‘89-’92. For 17 years, she ran the athletics department as well, handing it off to Mark Ekren three years ago. She’s been the coach of the All Star softball team in June many times and named Section Coach of the Year more than once as well. In 2013, she was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Coaches Hall of Fame and the Moorhead State Hall of Fame along with the pioneering Dragon women athletes of the 1970s. Holmberg also received the Breaking Barriers Award, an award giving opportunities to women athletics, for the second time in her career in 2013, first time being in 1996.

Holmberg made her way through high school at Murdock just prior to the modern dawn of interscholastic athletics for the “weaker” sex.

Though there was no organized school sport, Holmberg played on LeAnn Steffl’s slow pitch team in Benson during the summer months; That’s when she fell in love with the game.

Holmberg went on to play for Moorhead State 1973-77 and began teaching Special Education at Morris in 1977, starting the Tigers’ softball team in 1980.

The program has benefitted from its continuity of the head coach and having just three different assistants: Janelle Bright (1981), George Graff (1982-2000), and current assistant coach Mary Asche, who has been with the program since 2001. Holmberg has seen a lot of changes in the sport itself in her 34 years of coaching, mostly improving the pace of the game.

“The biggest change is pitching…It has improved a lot and with that, the hitting has improved. I think adding courtesy runners for pitchers and catchers helped to keep the game moving. It’s a faster pace than it used to be.”

So what’s next? Holmberg plans to keep doing what she loves, coaching and teaching.

“I feel like I can still motivate athletes to work to their full potential and to have fun doing it,” Holmberg said. “That’s the main thing as you go through every season to continue that fun, so the girls look forward to coming to practice, and they look forward to game day and playoffs… and I’m still excited to teach. I feel good about getting up in the morning, coming to school, coming to coach, and game days, the excitement and the jitters. It’s a love and a passion; it doesn’t seem like work.”

Rand Middleton contributed to this story.

Brooke Kern

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