Heath Hotzler, Published February 22 2008
Bortke paved way for Mary athleticsWhen athletic director Al Bortke arrived at the University of Mary in Bismarck in 1973, the Marauders offered just one sport (men’s basketball) and had no major national affiliation with the NAIA or NCAA.
However, Bortke and his staff had a vision for what Mary athletics could become.
“One of my jobs when I came here was to grow the athletic department,” said Bortke, who announced last week he is retiring from the AD position after the school year. “In turn, that would increase enrollment. When I came in, looking at our enrollment, it just made sense to add a women’s basketball program. So we added a women’s basketball program.”
With men’s and women’s basketball – Bortke coached the men’s team from 1973-89 – Bortke’s next plan was to get into the NAIA.
Mary spent its first few years as an NAIA independent, which Bortke says was some of the toughest times in his tenure.
“We had to have a 67 percent winning record as an independent to be invited to the playoffs in District 12 (basketball),” he said. “And the independent schools tournament was really tough.”
Establishing football helped change the complexion of the student body. A female dominated campus before the school started football, the campus became much more diverse, Bortke said.
The school took a major step when it was admitted into the North Dakota College Athletic Conference (Now the Dakota Athletic Conference) in the late 1980s.
Mary, which now offers 19 sports, went on to become a national player in several sports at the NAIA level.
Bortke then helped the Marauders transition into NCAA Division II, where the school received full-fledged admission after just two years of transition.
Bortke, 71, said his proudest moment has nothing to with wins and losses.
“I always took great pride in making sure we fulfilled the obligations to parents that their son or daughter would graduate.” he said. “In my 16 years as a coach, I had only one student-athlete that didn’t get their four-year degree.”
Bortke will remain at Mary as an associate.
It’s likely that he’ll maintain his presence at almost every sporting event on the Mary campus for years to come.
“I’m just not going to walk away from athletics totally,” Bortke said. “I told my wife that I’m not going to the rocking chair, and I’m not painting the walls in the house.
“My fourth-grade granddaughter said that I could coach her YMCA team. So I know I’ve got job security.”
Odds and ends
Former Minnesota State Moorhead assistant wrestling coach Spencer Yohe was recently elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Former Dragons wrestler Allan Goeden will also receive Hall of Fame’s the State Courage Award for his contributions to the sport. Paralyzed below the waist in a hunting accident, Goeden has been a coach at the youth and high school levels. … Lance Lee, a 6-foot-6 sophomore post at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, Minn., has verbally committed to Northern State. Sophomore Bill Bauman, from Prior Lake, Minn., is being recruited by NCAA Division III and NAIA Division II schools, according to Spartans head coach Jason Retzlaff. … Rothsay (Minn.) High School graduate Derek Simonsen recently scored his 1,000th career point for Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D.
Readers can reach Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotzler’s small college blog can be found