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Forum staff reports, Published June 15 2013

Dad's day: Impact made by fathers still being felt by area athletic figures

Talia Butery and her father, Mike Merritt

From an early age, Talia Butery (Merritt) saw first-hand what went into being a coach.

Her father, Mike Merritt, coached gymnastics for 40 years, most spent at the high school level at several schools throughout North Dakota.

As a result, Talia caught the coaching bug, and for the last seven years has been the head girls swimming and diving coach at Fargo North.

“He is a great resource,” Talia said of her father. “I can call him with questions or for ideas. When I’m having a tough day, I can vent to him and celebrate successes too. Other coaches know what it is like and how time consuming it is. They also know how exciting it is and the stresses involved. It’s nice to have somebody who understands.”

Mike Merritt, 62, retired from teaching and coaching the Fargo Davies and Fargo South-Fargo North co-op gymnastics teams this year, but will continue to coach South’s girls cross country and track and field teams.

Talia has been a good resource for Mike as well.

“I call her to get a female coaching perspective and ask for her opinion on what I should do in certain situations,” Mike Merritt said.

Both Mike and Talia have seen plenty of success in their respective careers.

Talia’s Spartans won a state championship last fall, becoming the first East Region team to do so since 1977. Mike, who said he knows nothing about coaching swimming, is a big fan and proud father.

Before cross country season starts in the fall, Mike will enjoy some time off in addition to spending time with Talia’s infant daughter named Merritt and come August a new grandson.

“He gets to hang out with my daughter a couple days a week now,” Talia said. “Hopefully she can learn some of those lessons I learned growing up from him.”

-Tom Mix

Whitney Baumgartner and her father, Steve

Steve Baumgartner had a big laugh as he smacked his

26-year-old daughter Whitney with a hockey stick and recited to her the penalties he was committing at Moorhead Youth Hockey Arena.

Thanks to never missing a Concordia men’s home hockey game in her dad’s 22-year coaching career with the Cobbers, Whitney is well aware of the rules of hockey. Don’t let the icy hazel eyes, pretty smile and minor obsession with pop singer Justin Timberlake fool you.

“She has a lot of knowledge of the game,” Steve said. “I honestly think she’s going to be the first female general manager someday.”

By the time Steve resigned in 2008 as Concordia’s men’s coach, he had won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award three times, made the playoffs seven times, amassed more than 200 wins and was the winningest coach in the history of Concordia hockey. It was after the games, when he was reviewing film, where Whitney fell in love with hockey.

“He would bring home footage of the games to watch, and he would look at different plays and how to correct them,” Whitney said. “I’d sit and watch with him, and he would teach me all about the sport.”

It’s become Whitney’s career, as she is the Media and Community Relations Manager for the Fargo Force junior hockey team. And dad couldn’t be more proud.

“She found a love for the game, so it’s a neat deal,” Steve said. “She got into marketing and you never know where that’s going to take her, but it took her to hockey.”

–Chris Murphy

Matt Nagel and his father, Clay

When Matt Nagel thinks of Father’s Day, the word “sacrifice” comes to mind.

Like how his father, Clay Nagel, would give up his Saturdays to take his son to wrestling tournaments. That’s back when Matt was in junior high and high school.

“I think it’s about all the things that he’s done for me,” said Matt, who is now the head wrestling coach at Concordia. “It’s a time and a day to show some appreciation to give back to him.”

Clay was Matt’s high school wrestling coach at Frazee High School, where Matt became the first five-time state champ in Minnesota.

“It was a pretty special time for us,” said Matt, who grew up on a hobby farm near Frazee.

The embrace they shared after the historic title was captured in a newspaper photo, which Clay has in his office at Concordia. Clay will be an assistant wrestling coach for the Cobbers next season. Clay, who has been Concordia’s head coach, and Matt have coached together for the Cobbers the past four seasons.

Clay said he had to trick Matt to compete in his first wrestling tournament when Matt was around 5 years old.

“That’s tough for a little guy to step on the mat and know the other guy may beat you,” Clay said.

Matt is thankful for the lessons he has learned from his dad.

“He has taught me about having good character as a person, and doing the right thing,” Matt said.

–Eric Peterson

Brent Vigen and his father, Randy

His coaching career lasted 37 years, and if Randy Vigen needs a football fix, he doesn’t have to look far. He can just ask his son Brent, who followed in his footsteps.

Randy and Doris Vigen brought their oldest son to North Dakota State in the fall of 1993, and in a sense, the NDSU offensive coordinator hasn’t left. On this Father’s Day, Brent is giving thanks to his dad for getting him involved in athletics, which has been his career and his life.

“He taught me how sports should be played,” Brent said. “Beyond that, he taught me how to be the best person, how to try and be the best player you can be and sportsmanship.”

It’s been a two-way street, especially now that Randy is no longer coaching at Central Valley High School, located about 25 miles south of Grand Forks. Brent remembers his dad starting the baseball program, coaching him in junior high basketball and varsity football.

He remembers going to high school games, college games and a couple of trips every year to the Twin Cities for Twins games.

That road for Brent helped carry him through the ranks of the Bison football staff, first as a graduate assistant, offensive backfield coach and now the guy on the hot seat who calls the plays.

“We all know what this coaching business is like, it’s a lot of pressure,” Randy said. “Not only does he handle his job professionally, but he does it well. And he’s an awfully proud father himself with our grandsons.”

-Jeff Kolpack

Bart Manson and his father, Gene

The phrase "like father, like son" rings true for Gene and Bart Manson.

Like his father, Gene, who spent 37 years as a head boys basketball coach in North Dakota, Bart Manson has followed in those footsteps, coaching at Fargo Davies since the school started its varsity program three years ago.

When Bart began to build the Eagles’ program, he could think of no one better than Gene to be one of his assistant coaches. So only one year into retirement, Gene – who collected a total of 628 wins as head coach primarily at Minot High School – returned to the bench.

“It all fell into place,” Bart said. “His last year at Minot was 2008, so he had a year off. I asked him, ‘If I applied for the job at Davies, would you be one of my assistants?’ He said yes, and for us being a young program, we needed some veteran leadership around. That’s what we were looking for.”

Bart, 41, and his two brothers, Ross and Brian, all played for Gene, 65, at Minot. He coached all three of his sons in state championship games and won a total of four state titles with the Magicians.

“It’s been very special,” Gene said of coaching with his son. “The best thing we’ve done so far is qualifying for the state tournament this past season, winning two games and taking third place.”

Gene said his role as an assistant is much easier than his years as a head coach, and he also enjoys that he’s much closer to his grandchildren.

“It really was a perfect situation for both of us,” Gene said.

“My dad and I do a lot of stuff together,” Bart added. “He’s been a great father, and I always grew up wanting to do what he did. So far it has worked out. I don’t know if I can get as many wins and stick around as long as he did, but it is great having him around.”

-Tom Mix