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Published May 09 2010

A Mother’s Day salute: Local sporting figures tell us what their moms mean to them

Matt Cullen and his mother, Nancy

A pro hockey player for the last 13 years, Moorhead’s Matt Cullen is in awe of his mother’s stamina.

When Matt was a kid, Nancy Cullen chauffeured each of her four children to various sports endeavors, taught life lessons at home and still had time to cook.

“She’s been there for everything,” said Matt, who played pro hockey for the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators this season. “She’s been about as supportive of a mother as you could ask for. … I don’t know how she did it.”

The answer: Nancy learned early how to be a good manager of time.

“It was all that I did, it was my life and it was good,” said Nancy, a former track and field athlete and volleyball player at Concordia. “It was a wonderful time. I was busy, but I was happy.”

Nancy’s three boys, Matt, Mark and Joe, each play pro hockey. Daughter, Annie, was a national champion diver at Concordia in 2006.

“She’s always been there for me in my hockey career,” Matt said. “I’ve always been so hard on myself. She’s always so good at picking you up and helping you out.”

- Heath Hotzler

Tyler Roehl and his mother, Marilyn

Tyler Roehl figures if he had listened to his mother, he would be a chef rather than aspiring to be a pro football player.

“My mom always wanted me to do something like cook,” said Roehl, a West Fargo High School and North Dakota State standout running back. “She didn’t like me wrestling, playing football. She thought it was too hard on my body.”

Marilyn Roehl, mother of three, got used to Roehl’s hard-running style that earned him an NFL free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks last spring and a recent tryout with the Minnesota Vikings.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like it … I was scared of it,” Marilyn said. “Of course as a mother, you are always scared and worried about their health.”

But she admits it was exciting. “I don’t know why he always had that drive, but it makes you very proud as a parent,” Marilyn said.

“My mom has been there for everything,” Tyler said. “That means a lot. She does so much for me, I don’t know if any words can really describe it.”

-Kevin Schnepf

Steve and Chad Johnson and their mother, Margaret

Most hockey moms travel all over the place for a few years while their kids are playing. Margaret Johnson has played that role much longer than that.

The mother of Fargo Force coaches Steve and Chad Johnson didn’t stop with her sons’ playing days, as she now watches her kids win games as coaches.

Steve and Chad also have a younger brother, Brent. The Johnsons’ father, Gary, passed away when Steve was 16, Chad was 12 and Brent was 11, leaving Margaret to deal with three rough-housing hockey players.

“I can’t imagine what she went through with us three boys running around,” Chad said.

Steve and Chad starred at Grand Forks Central and had successful careers at the University of North Dakota.

Margaret remarried, and she and her husband, Newell Ueland, make the trip from Thompson, N.D.

Now the cycle of youth games has started all over again, as Margaret gets to watch Steve’s sons Luke and Max play high school and youth hockey.

“Now she’s a hockey grandmother,” Steve said. “She doesn’t miss many games.”

– Kerry Collins

Bucky Burgau and his mother, Lila

While Concordia baseball coach Bucky Burgau has coached the Cobbers for 32 seasons and won more than 600 games, he credits much of that success to another source – his mother, Lila Lubitz.

“Any success that I’ve had in baseball, or whatever, it’s because of the way that mom showed me how to go about my business,” Burgau said. “Mom showed me how to stick with it through the hard, hard times.”

Burgau, 60, said one prime example of his mom’s determination came when he was 16 years old growing up in Perham, Minn.

His parents got divorced and Lubitz lost her job as a bookkeeper.

“To save our family, to keep our home, mom went to work in a restaurant washing dishes,” Burgau said. “She swallowed all of her pride and went and got a job to save her family. … She’s my hero.”

Lubitz, 79, is also proud of the success her oldest of three kids has been able to enjoy on the baseball field. She recalls Bucky, whose real first name is Don, being very competitive from an early age.

“He just loved it from Day 1 and we never missed a game; we always went to all the games,” said Lubitz, who still lives in Perham.

“Baseball is my game, too. I just love baseball for some reason.”

– Eric Peterson

Amy and Nathan Anderson and their mother, Tyla

Twyla Anderson is scheduled to celebrate Mother’s Day today eating peanuts on an airplane with her daughter Amy.

Such a hectic schedule is – pardon the pun – par for the course for this Oxbow, N.D., mother of two of the area’s most accomplished golfers.

Amy, a North Dakota State freshman who won last summer’s U.S. Junior amateur championship, was flying back today from this weekend’s NCAA West Regional golf tournament at Stanford. Nathan is a freshman golfer for NDSU, who at age 17 won the 2008 North Dakota men’s stroke play championship.

“Mom takes care of all the flights, the planning, the motels,” Amy said referring to her busy summertime golf schedule. “I don’t have to worry about all that stuff. That’s been really nice.”

Growing up in a house next to the Oxbow Country Club, Amy and Nathan were home-schooled. Mom was their teacher.

“I didn’t like her very much,” a smiling Nathan said of his mom’s strict regiment. “She made me do stuff. But it all paid off.”

“For me, it’s just been fun to see them apply themselves and be diligent and to see them experience the fruits of their labor.”

– Kevin Schnepf

Blake Jegtvig and his mother, Loree

In the high-speed sport of auto racing, some drivers’ mothers can’t watch because of the fear of injury to their children.

Loree Jegtvig doesn’t worry too much about that, as she watches her son, Blake, succeed on tracks all over the country.

“She’s more worried about us going ice fishing than she is about us going racing,” Blake said.

Loree doesn’t have much to worry about, since not too many wrecks happen to the leader of the pack.

Blake, who hails from Hawley, Minn., was last year’s WISSOTA national points champion in the Modifieds, and won track championships at both Red River Valley Speedway and Buffalo River Race Park.

Blake said his mom not only watches him at the local tracks, but has flown to places like Tucson, Ariz., to watch him in his race car.

And Blake’s No. 1 fan is pushing him to race more and more.

“She always wants us to get out there and race more and more,” Blake said. “She probably just wants me to get off my butt and do something.

“But she’s all for it. She’s always been very encouraging, and that’s great.”

– Kerry Collins

Kira Larson and her mother, Desire’e

When it comes to cleaning her room, Kira Larson admits she doesn’t listen to her mother very well.

But when it comes to high jumping, the Fargo North High School freshman is all ears. That’s because her mother Desire’e has been coaching high jumpers at North Dakota State for more than two decades.

“I know she knows what she is talking about,” said Kira, who as an eighth-grader last year won the North Dakota Class A state high jump title clearing 5 feet, 6 inches.

The following summer, she won the USA Track and Field Youth national high jump title in Michigan and USATF Junior Olympic National championship in North Carolina.

“It’s nice to have your kid in the event that I coach … that’s sort of fun,” said Desire’e, wife of NDSU’s men’s head track coach Don Larson.

Earlier this spring, Kira produced a personal best clearing 5 feet, 7 inches. It’s quite a feat considering she just started high jumping after last year’s flood.

“She’s really only done this probably 10 times total,” Desire’e said. “It came really natural to her.”

And it doesn’t hurt that mom knows a lot about high jumping.

“I really realize how much time she takes out of her day to come and help me,” Kira said. “Having mom there with me, it makes it that much easier.”

– Kevin Schnepf