John’s Journal: 42 Years Of Softball Memories
Wabasha-Kellogg’s Mike Schumacher Built Program From Scratch
Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2022 - 3:37 PM
WABASHA -- When Mike Schumacher graduated from college in 1980 and went looking for a job as a teacher and coach, he found a nice little setup at Wabasha-Kellogg. Shortly after being hired as a math teacher and junior high football coach, another gem of an opportunity presented itself.
“When they saw that I had some previous softball coaching, they said, ‘We're thinking of starting softball.’ So I became a softball coach,” Schumacher said earlier this week.
That was 42 years ago. Schumacher, a graduate of Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s High School and the University of Minnesota Morris, will close the books on his softball coaching career when the current season ends, and everyone would relish a repeat trip to the Class 1A state tournament as a finale of his legendary career. The Falcons opened the postseason this week with Section 1A wins over Schaeffer Academy and Mabel-Canton by a combined score of 39-2 and will face Southland on Thursday.
It took a while to get the program off the ground; there was no softball field or youth softball program before the inaugural team was assembled in the spring of 1981.
“I can still remember some of the games back in the ‘80s when in the last inning we’d have an eight-run lead and all of a sudden we've got a six-run deficit,” Schumacher said. “Those kinds of things don't happen quite that drastically now. But back then you never knew what was going to happen.
“Over the first 10 years we won like 35 games. So either I say goodbye or I get a summer program going and get serious. I started doing that.”
Coaching in the summer was not new to Schumacher, who had played high school baseball and coached summer girls softball in Sleepy Eye. Among his softball players was a young lady who was a year behind him at St. Mary’s; he and Georgette Meyer were married after college and have raised three kids in Wabasha.
“I married my high school sweetheart, who was my second baseman,” he said with a smile.
Schumacher considered several job offers in 1980, including positions in Annandale, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Alexandria and Kimball.
“But none of those had the combination of high school math and some football coaching,” he said.
“When Georgette and I were looking at where to live after college, we wanted to either go up north by some lakes or southeastern Minnesota, and there happened to be an opening here. For me, it was a perfect fit because it had the geometry, the upper-level math that I wanted to teach with the exact same classes and the exact same books I had student-taught with.”
The other communities also didn’t have the outdoor attributes of living alongside the Mississippi River.
“Right now the water is up high enough that we can just take the kayaks behind our house and we can go right through the trees from the backwaters and get anywhere we want,” Mike said.
In 2016, Schumacher was inducted into the Minnesota Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame and received the Bob Mertz Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Minute Men group of the Minnesota Twins. His career record of 451-418 (including 412-304 since 1991) puts him among the top 20 winningest softball coaches in Minnesota history.
Before Monday’s playoff opener against Schaeffer Academy, Wabasha-Kellogg activities director Tim Klingbeil looked around the Falcons’ softball complex, pointing out the fields, batting cages, a concession stand/pavilion area and more.
“Over 42 years, he's absolutely built everything you see,” Klingbeil said.
Before that game, a special announcement was made: The complex will be named Schumacher Fields – in honor of Mike and Georgette -- when the 2023 season begins.
There are four seniors this season -- Ella Lineweaver, Sophie Graner, Jacqueline Avilez and Megan Solberg -- who will see their high school softball careers end as their coach steps away.
“He's been coaching forever,” Sophie said, “and a lot of people love him.”
The Falcons went to state last season, as they did in 2003, 2006 and 2007. The memories from last season’s accomplishment are still fresh.
“It was awesome to go to state with Mr. Schumacher, specifically because we could really see him open up with us a lot more,” Sophie said. “He was already open but he just was way brighter than usual and more talkative and it was just a really good experience.”
Jacqueline said, “I don't think I've ever seen him happier than when we won that section championship game.”
Klingbeil, who is the seventh activities director at Wabasha-Kellogg since Schumacher’s arrival, said, “I'm always asking for help, for wisdom, for experience. What he's seen over the years is just tremendous. With his philosophy and his approach, you can't argue because he’ll say, ‘You know, back in ‘87 we did this’ and ‘Back in ’92 we did this.’
“I think every coach who coaches thinks to themselves, ‘I want to be Mike Schumacher. I want to move to a small community and make that corner of the world better.’ ”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]