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A history-making winter in Detroit Lakes sports: Three girls teams compete at state

For the first time, three Detroit Lakes girls sports teams qualified for state in the same winter season. All three teams are led by female head coaches.

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Detroit Lakes head gymnastics coach Leesa Lindgaard drapes first-place medals on Laker gymnastics team members after winning the Section 8A championship on Feb. 12, 2022 at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — To say this was a monumental winter for girls sports in Detroit Lakes would be an understatement. It was a historic winter.

For the first time ever, Detroit Lakes High School saw three of its girls teams compete for state championships in the same season. What's more, all three teams were led by women head coaches.

On Feb. 15, the Laker jazz team clinched its first state berth since 2010.

The gymnastics team won its seventh section championship in its last nine tries one week later.

Fast forward to Mar. 10, where the Detroit Lakes girls basketball team shocked Section 8-3A to earn its first state tournament berth since 2009.

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"It sets a tone (for future Laker basketball teams)," said girls basketball head coach Rachel Johnson. "As a program, this season is setting the bar… Setting the tone for the program as a whole is something that not many coaching staffs and girls have, and it makes us really excited for the future."

Johnson is a second-year head coach. One of her goals from the start was to get the program back to what it was like in the mid-2000s, when the Lakers went to state three times in the span of five years.

The girls basketball team rode the underdog mentality to the Class 3A consolation championship game. Johnson said what was even more important than proving people wrong was setting an example for the future of the program.

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Detroit Lakes Girls Basketball Head Coach Rachel Johnson, left, talks strategy with sophomore Ella Okeson in the Class 3A consolation semifinal game at Concordia-St. Paul on Mar. 17, 2022.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"There were so many little basketball players running around and seeing us do all of this," she said. "That's so invaluable for the future of this program and girls sports in our community. To have them see all of these community members, the band, the students, the media and everybody else with us every step of the way is so important. It just sets the tone for what we want this program to be, and it encourages a lot of people to buy into this."

Like the basketball team, the Laker Dance Team was a surprise representative out of Section 8-2A at the state tournament. Britton Ramsey has been at the helm for a decade and finally saw her girls climb the mountain.

"We have dancers from all three dance studios in town coming together to represent DLHS, and that is so special," Ramsey said. "I'm hopeful this year will get younger dancers in the community excited to represent DLHS as a Laker when it's their turn. Our current seniors were in first grade the last time DL advanced to state. They all have a memory of hearing about it and have talked about it all their years on the team. Knowing that current first graders will feel that same impact is really exciting."

Even for a program like Detroit Lakes gymnastics, which has five state titles since 2014, this year's team was filled with inexperience. Despite being on the coaching staff for the previous seven of the Lakers' section championships, this was the first time Leesa Lindgaard was the head coach for a championship-winning team at the high school level.

"It was great making it back to state this year," Lindgaard said. "We have such a young team, and only four girls on the team have been to the state meet before, whether it was individually or with our state championship teams. Being such a young team, it was very impactful for the girls to experience and know and believe that they belong at that state meet, just like our state championship teams. They are very talented gymnasts that need to believe in themselves a little bit more and gain confidence. I believe this state experience helped a lot with that."

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Women led by women

Winning a section championship and competing for a state title has a lasting impact that goes far beyond the act of hanging a banner in the gym. Coaches say success can be a crucial aspect in dictating a program's culture.

"I always like to remind my Laker gymnasts that you never know when a little kid is watching. What do you want your legacy to be when you graduate?" Lindgaard said. "How do you want people to remember you? Being a mom with young girls who love and look up to high school gymnastics, I love that my little girls are impacted by hard-working, caring and determined women who aren't afraid to go after their goals and push to the limit even when they don't necessarily want to."

It's one thing to have a banner season for girls sports. It's another to highlight how each of them was led by women head coaches.

"Even though these girls have male coaches that are so awesome, to have gymnastics, dance and girls basketball get to this level says a lot about the women leadership Detroit Lakes has in their coaches," Johnson said. "It's something many girls out there don't get to experience. It's just really powerful."

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Detroit Lakes Head Dance Team Coach Britton Ramsey, left, and Assistant Coach Haley Brower smile after the Lakers performed their jazz routine at the Section 4-2A dance meet on Feb. 5, 2022 at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.
Jared Rubado / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Johnson was emotional talking about how proud she is to have played a part in this historic winter season.

"My coaching staff is the best. Josh (Bettcher) and Dave (Hutchinson) are awesome, but to see all of these programs have influential women leaders is something that even I as a 25-year-old didn't grow up in," Johnson said. "It's really special for me to see these girls have that. It's hard, and it's difficult to be a teenage girl and not have women in sports that you can go to."

Being a coach is much more than just leading a team to wins and losses. The antithesis of coaching at the high school level is about teaching lessons that last far longer than the time on the floor, ice, track, mat or field.

"There have been many times in my years coaching that I was one of only a few females in the room for various coaching events," Ramsey said. "Seeing more and more women in those spaces is amazing. We know, as coaches, that athletics develops kids in so many ways. Creating space for girls to not only participate but feel supported and valued as athletes, allows them that development of character and additional leadership experience that will help them to be successful as adults no matter where their future takes them. I'm really proud of our community and school district for supporting so many ways for kids to get involved and create more leadership opportunities among our young women."

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In a time when women's athletics are beginning to see the recognition they strive for at all levels, all three of these Detroit Lakes coaches feel supported by the community.

"It was so great to see our female coaches' success this year," Lindgaard said. "It is a big accomplishment to make it to that state competition. I feel the community does a fine job supporting us. We always would love to see a big crowd at home meets. We had a big turnout for sections, and that was great. I believe we truly fed off the atmosphere that day."

"One of the bigger factors to our success this year was having more time and space in the gym from previous years," Ramsey said. "Our whole program felt the impacts of that. We appreciate our community, booster clubs and school district in providing the much-improved space that benefits all Laker athletes."

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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