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Wendy Kohler, left, celebrated with former player Cara Wood after a win. The Cardinal coach has been a positive influence on many players, both on the court and off. (File photo)

Cardinal girls' basketball coach Wendy Kohler to receive Breaking Barriers award

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For more than 27 years, Wendy Kohler has been stalking the sidelines during Alexandria girls' basketball games. As the head coach of the program, her intensity and drive is evident as she paces back and forth, claps, whistles, points and calls the plays.

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"I'm wired for the competition, for the relationships with the girls, to help make them successful in the game of life as well," Kohler said. "Being able to connect with our athletes is important, as well as having a supportive family and an inexhaustible spirit, is the key component."

All that energy has helped Kohler engineer a program that is the epitome of success, proving herself as an advocate for girls' athletics and raising the Cardinal basketball program to levels that other schools strive to reach.

Her dedication to Cardinal athletics and to youth in the Alexandria area has not gone unnoticed, and Kohler will be honored for her efforts as the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership will present her with the Breaking Barriers award.

The award, given annually to those who have made an impact on the opportunities for girls and women in athletics, is a fitting tribute for a coach who has created a winning basketball dynasty in Alexandria.

"This isn't about me or what I'm proud of," said Kohler of the award. "I feel so lucky to have been blessed with a knack for motivating young women.

"Teaching our girls the motivating force will only serve them well later in life in this competitive world that they are growing up in."

In her career, Kohler has guided the Cardinals to more than 450 wins, including seven state tournament appearances and a state championship in 1997.

"We've been blessed with talented young athletes, and you can't win without talent in the CLC or section," she said.

Her impact on the game has been recognized statewide as she was selected to the Minnesota Girls' Basketball Coaches Association's (MGBCA) Hall of Fame in 2003.

But Kohler's successes are not all on the courts. She helped develop and implement criteria for the Academic Team Champion award, and has served as the girls' basketball representative to the Minnesota State High School League delegate assembly.

She has also been an active member of the MGBCA, serving as president in 1989-90, and as a member of the All-Star team, player and sportsmanship selection committees.

At Jefferson High School, Kohler has incorporated the Top 20 Philosophy - helping people to develop their potential - into her program and impacting the culture at the school.

"She has been a strong supporter of young women, encouraging them to reach their goals," said athletic director Dave Hartmann in his nomination of Kohler. "As a role model, she continues to teach life skills and has impacted thousands in her career."

Hartmann has personal knowledge of Kohler's influence, having watched two of his daughters move through her program.

"They still reflect on the influence Wendy had in shaping who they are," he said.

Kohler is quick to point out that Hartmann is an important factor in the girls' basketball program's success as well.

"Dr. Hartmann is such a huge advocate for all of our activities in District 206," said noted. "Dave's support means so much as he is in this profession for the students of District 206, and all activities and coaches. He also stands firm in equity in all activities [for] both male and female."

Kohler's opportunities in athletics came at an early age, and set her on a path of success.

"I remember being in 7th grade when girls' sports became extracurricular," said Kohler. "What an exciting time."

From there, Kohler competed for Bertha-Hewitt High School, heading to Moorhead State University (MSUM) in 1983, where she was a standout basketball player.

But, despite the many steps forward she's taken in the athletic world, there are still a few things that need improving.

"I've worked in a male dominated profession for 28 years now, and value the respect and friendships that I have with my male coaching counterparts," said Kohler. "[But] the one frustrating thing is that, every once in a while, I do feel that, at the high school level, some officials or people in general, may favor my male counterpart who I am coaching against in terms of communication or respect. That part still needs to see some improvements.

"I've never used the discrimination calling card much, and, to me, I coach athletes. It doesn't matter if you are male or female. An athlete is an athlete. When they walk off the floor, then they are women.

"The opportunities for young women now are so amazing. We just keep getting stronger, quicker and more skilled, and it's an exciting time for the female athlete."

Kohler has two children - Chase, who is on the Cardinal boys' basketball team, and Kendall, a member of the Cardinal girls' squad.

"I am so thankful for my son and daughter," said Kohler. "Having them participate in activities and blessed with their health is something that none of us should ever overlook."

AWARD WINNER

The Breaking Barriers award is given to people or organizations who have made an impact in providing athletic opportunities for girls and women in the community

The award will be presented at Minnesota's National Girls and Women in Sports Day at the State Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul on Wednesday, February 6, at noon

Some of Minnesota's most inspiring and influential student-athletes, coaches and athletic leaders will be recognized

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