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Chris Murphy, Published December 12 2013

Hawley head coach gives all credit to his players as he closes in on win No. 500

When asked if his win total was at No. 499 a week ago, Bill Gottenborg’s response summed up his coaching career.

“That’s what people tell me,” said Gottenborg, the Hawley girls basketball coach since 1984. “I don’t keep track of those things.”

There’s something for which even Gottenborg has no defense. Considering his team gave up an average of 34.3 points a game last season – fourth fewest in Minnesota – that’s hard to find.

Even if one were to take away the Minnesota Girls Basketball Hall of Fame induction in 2010, the Class 2A coach of the year awards in 2005 and 2006, the five times he’s won Heart O’ Lakes Conference coach of the year or the many Class 2A, Section 8 coach of the year awards, the overall record would never go away.

What would remain are 12 conference titles, seven trips to the state tournament and the 499-183 overall record.

“The attention is always on the kids,” Hawley athletic director Brett Schmidt said. “That truly comes from the heart with him. That’s why he’s so humble.”

It’s what goes into those numbers and awards beyond the court that separates Gottenborg.

“Quite simply, he’s more dedicated to his kids and his program than one can even feasibly imagine,” Schmidt said. “When it comes to girls basketball, he’s all-in.”

The spotlight may not shine on the after-hours film sessions or the scouting of other teams, but the players notice.

“It’s an honor to play for him,” said Hawley junior guard Jody Noreen, who can’t remember a time she wasn’t coached by Gottenborg. “He works so hard, so we work hard to give that back to him. I don’t think I’ve known anyone who loves the game like him.”

One can see Gottenborg as a reflection of his team. The way his teams swarm to the ball and allow nothing near the net is like a mirror image of Gottenborg’s work.

“Sometimes you can’t control if the ball goes in offensively, but you can control your effort and your positioning on defense,” said Hawley assistant coach Ben Lofgren, who was taught and coached by Gottenborg before coaching with him since 1996. “That’s always been the backbone of what he’s done. He does a lot of homework with it, he scouts a lot and he spends a lot of hours away from home researching kids and teams.”

It’s a safe bet who Gottenborg will thank if win No. 500 comes tonight at home against Wadena-Deer Creek.

“It’s not something you think about,” Gottenborg said. “It’s a tribute to the young ladies I’ve gotten a chance to coach and their families and the tradition of Hawley basketball. Credit goes to those people.”

Before Gottenborg was coaching in Stephen, Minn., in 1982 or starting at Hawley in 1984, he was just a kid in Audubon, Minn., looking at his dad’s scrapbooks from his days playing basketball for the Audubon Zephyrs.

Before Gottenborg was watching his daughter hit a buzzer-beating shot to beat defending state champion Rochester Lourdes and send Hawley to the state title game for his 300th win as a coach, he was beginning his work ethic in elementary school, filling out brackets of the high school tournaments.

“I’d see the older kids, and you just dream of being a player,” Gottenborg said. “I would make up brackets of the tournaments when I was in elementary school, and I’d follow that through for the winters and listen to the teams on the radio. It all started with my dad liking the game.”

It all comes back to the team.

“It’s just really a good team game,” Gottenborg said. “Players have to work together.”

For Gottenborg’s players, that’s easy to do. They have a great example of hard work in front of them every day.

“The amount of time he puts in, you wouldn’t believe it,” Noreen said. “He’s here until late at night and all day. He’s really caring, and he’s a great role model for all of us. We’re going to try to make (No. 500) happen for him. We’re going to work our hardest to get the job done.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548