Grahn has many fond memories as a coach SOFTBALL

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

GALE GRAHN retired after last season following an outstanding 24-year career as the Plymouth head softball coach. Grahn is pictured with second baseman Jordyn Pieper during a game last year. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley GALE GRAHN retired after last season following an outstanding 24-year career as the Plymouth head softball coach. Grahn is pictured with second baseman Jordyn Pieper during a game last year. – Review photo by Greg Ceilley PLYMOUTH – Gale Grahn had an outstanding 24-year career as the head softball coach for the Plymouth Panthers but what means the most to him are the many relationships that developed between him and his players.

“The camaraderie and the relationships you build – that’s still the key. I’m very proud of all the different championships we’ve won and the regional titles and the state runs but it all comes back to the relationships that you make with the kids, and I keep in touch with them” said Grahn who retired after the 2014 season.

“There are so many good memories. I try to remember each senior class. Coaching softball was a very important part of my life for the past 25 years.

“The great memories of going to the state tournament two different times. And just the memories of all the kids who came through the program.

“A lot of people have helped through the years. I’m proud of all those accomplishments.”

“The 300-plus wins are great and the championships are great but I talk to former players when they come back and you say, ‘Hey, remember when this happened in practice and when so-and-so did this in practice’... all those different memories. Those things mean everything to me. You can’t top those memories,” said Grahn.

Grahn, 52, guided the Panthers to a Division 2 state runner-up finish in 2006 and a D-2 state appearance in 2012. His career coaching record, all at PHS, was 331-164 and his last 19 teams had winning seasons.

“Many of my former players have turned into good friends and colleagues. I’m proud that a number of them have gone into softball coaching,” said Grahn. “It gives me a great feeling that they thought enough of what we did in our program. The key word is we, not me.”

Mikaela Holdridge, a 2014 PHS graduate, shared fond memories of her former softball coach.

“He was such a great coach and especially knew how to coach girls. One thing that struck me about his coaching techniques was he never yelled but he didn’t need to,” Holdridge recalled.

“We played our hardest for Mr. Grahn. We always wanted to make him proud and played our best because the thought of disappointing him was far worse than getting yelled at by him.

“Although he was often serious, he was also quite sarcastic and funny. He was always fun to be around,” she added.

Grahn and Paul Krzyzaniak started the PHS softball program in 1990 and were the Panthers’ first coaches. The program had a junior varsity season in 1990 and began varsity play in 1991. Krzyzaniak is in his 26th year as the Panthers’ JV coach. Dawn Krebsbach, an assistant under Grahn for the past 11 years, succeeded him as the new Panther head coach.

“We won a lot of games but we won a lot of games because we did things right. We got kids started as early as we could,” said Grahn who organized Plymouth’s first summer softball program for youths on a traveling team in 1994.

“We got them playing in games [at the youth level] but did that without putting too much pressure on them. There’s a fine line between them playing a lot of games and also letting them be kids. I think we balanced that pretty well,” said Grahn whose teams won three Eastern Wisconsin Conference titles and seven regional crowns.

“If you don’t have that summer [feeder] program, your high school program won’t be strong year in and year out. Getting out and playing other teams – that’s how you get better.

“I think the [high school program] is in real good hands. We’ve got that nice support system [from summer softball]. We have a lot of good people in the community who have taken the reins. There’s a lot of good people in the PYAA [Plymouth Youth Athletic Association which oversees youth softball]. The foundation is there.”

Grahn coached in the summer program from 1994-2010. He started the summer program with 15 girls on one team (U-14) in 1994. U-10 and U-12 traveling teams along with a high school-age traveling team in Plymouth were added in later years.

Grahn, the EWC Coach of the Year six times, also ran a “Stars of Tomorrow” morning softball program in conjunction with summer school from 1993-2005.

He’s not involved in the program anymore but continues to take care of the two softball fields behind Horizon Elementary School which are used for the summer program and for the PHS varsity and JV teams in the spring.

The diamonds are named Gale Grahn Fields in his honor because of he was very instrumental in the construction of them in 1993. He has been in charge of maintaining the fields ever since they were built.

“I will continue to take care of the ball fields. They are still my summer home.IwilldoitaslongaIcan,” Grahn said.

He said the most challenging aspect of being the Panther softball coach was getting the diamonds ready for games when weather was a concern.

“Being dependent on the weather was always challenging. Going through a day of wondering if you will get the games in, what will the field be like, how much work will it take to get fields ready, etc.,” he recalled.

Grahn explained why he retired from softball coaching.

“I thought this was a good time [to retire]. It’s been 24 years coaching varsity and 25 years from the start of the program. I had been kind of weaning myself off some of the summer things [involved with softball] the past couple of years,” he recalled.

“It was time to give the reins to someone else and for me to step back and do some other things. Football [coaching] takes up a lot of time and I’m still teaching. It was time to cut back after doing all three of those things. This gives me more time for my family and to hit the golf course more.”

Grahn is the offensive coordinator for the Panther varsity football team and a psychology and history teacher at PHS. He pointed out that a high school softball coach needs to be involved with a summer softball program to help the high school program.

“I think Dawn will do just fine [as the head coach]. She’s been an assistant for a dozen years or so and we’ve been very successful. She has seen how we run a program,” said Grahn.

“I’m sure she will tweak things to her own way of doing things. I think she’ll do a good job and the girls respect her, and Paul will still be the JV coach which will help the transition.

“I’m out of the limelight but I’ve told Dawn I’ll be there for support of the program. I’ve become the No. 1 softball fan. I’ll be there for support if she wants some advice.”

Grahn emphasized that the success of the PHS softball program has been a team effort through the work of the coaching staff, the players’ dedication, the support of the parents and others, and the summer feeder program.

“Paul has been a fixture in the program since we started it in 1990. He has been the only JV coach. He has also coached some of the summer teams at various levels over the years,” Grahn pointed out.

“A program’s success is built on its assistants and helpers along the way. Dawn was my assistant for 11 years, Paula Suemnicht was an assistant and freshman coach for 12 years before that. We’ve also had countless summer team coaches over the years that were instrumental in the success of the high school teams. It’s very much a team effort.

“I also want to thank all the people who helped with the fields over the years. Many volunteer hours have gone into the development and upkeep of the softball diamonds,” said Grahn.

“The continuity [of the PHS coaching staff] really helped. People understood what we were doing. I expected them to play hard, be at all the practices, be good role models and get good grades. We’ve had teams win academic awards.

“I’m proud that we have a wellrounded program. It’s not just about wins and losses. I think our kids are well-respected in the community.”

Grahn always stressed the fundamentals and good execution which were keys to his success as a high school softball coach.

“I’ve stressed all the little things like bunting. You have to be fundamentally sound,” he noted.

Grahn also emphasized slap hitting, different defensive techniques and all of the baserunning situations because he said it happens so fast in softball with bases being only 60 feet.

“I was a defensive guy when I played high school baseball [at Markesan]. I stress defense. They always say, ‘defense wins championships,’ ” he said.

“It takes the kids buying into all the things we did. That’s what it comes down to – the kids willing to put the time in. The kids want to keep the winning tradition going and you see that in all the sports.

Grahn isn’t surprised with all the success the PHS softball program has had.

“I’m very pleased that we had all those winning seasons but so many things go into it – the time the girls put into it and the effort of the other coaches [at all levels] in order to build the program. It’s not just me,” he said.

Grahn said he is proud that he helped start Plymouth’s high school softball program.

He said that his high school baseball coach, Peter James, was an inspiration for him to get into softball coaching.

“He had a great way of getting his point across without demeaning a person. He was a true leader and one of my coaching mentors,” Grahn remembered.

“I’ve always wanted to coach. I love teaching in the classroom but also love being on the athletic field.

“I wouldn’t have changed a thing [while coaching softball]. It’s been a great time for me. I’m going to miss coaching softball but it was time to step away.”

Grahn appreciated all the support he received from his wife, Renae, and his family, daughters Lindsey and Danielle and son, Alex, during his softball coaching career. Lindsey and Danielle played high school softball for their dad.

“Without Renae’s support and my kids’ support I wouldn’t have been able to do all the things we [softball program] did which in turn leads to the success we have. It was a great experience to be able to coach my girls when they were younger and in high school,” he recalled.

Molly Hengst, head softball coach at Oostburg High School who played for Grahn in the early 1990s, learned a lot from him.

“I’m a 1994 graduate and had the pleasure of playing for Mr. Grahn for three years. My love for the game of softball and my dedication to coaching young women in the sport is something I learned from Mr. Grahn,” said Hengst who is also a Spanish teacher and athletic director at Oostburg High.

“When I think about the opportunities he created and provided for me and the young women of PHS and the Plymouth community, I’m truly grateful.

“What I know and remember about Mr. Grahn is his loyalty, dedication and incredible work ethic. He accomplished so much and he achieved at such a driven level.

“I also remember his sense of humor and sarcasm. He made practices fun and enjoyable but at the same time expected more from his players every day. He pushed us to be successful and taught us a lot about softball but even more about life,” recalled Hengst.

“He sincerely cared about us and we all knew that if we needed anything, Mr. Grahn would be there to help or guide us.

“Along the way he impacted many lives and continues to do so. I’m 39 and I still depend on his encouragement and wisdom and consider him one of the most influential mentors in my life,” she added.

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