Michele (Marthaler) Perkins

by Randy Olson, Bonanza Valley Voice

In short order, Michele Perkins firmly planted the Brooten Buccaneers and then Brooten/Belgrade-Elrosa cross country program on the map of the Minnesota high school athletic scene. As a junior and first-year cross country runner, Perkins won the Region 5A girls’ title; she repeated that feat as a senior and went on to win the Class 1A state title in November 1985.

Perkins, known in the Brooten area as Michele Marthaler, is a 1986 graduate of Brooten high school and has one of the more fabled athletic careers of any Buccaneers athlete.

In the fall while growing up, Perkins was a standout volleyball player through her sophomore year. In the winter, she was a four-year starter for the Brooten girls’ basketball team and finished with 1,501 career points before the advent of the three-point shot. In the spring, Perkins was a reliable points-getter for the Brooten/Belgrade-Elrosa track and field team; she and her teammates achieved famous status when they earned a team state championship in June 1986.

Perkins still owns the fifth-fasted time in track and field state history in the 1,600-meter run. In 1986, she ran a time of 4:53.4 at state. In the 3,200 run, she ranks 11th all-time with a time of 10:32.6, a time that stood as the state record for eight years.

In college, Perkins went on to run at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the Division I Cornhuskers. At Nebraska, she was a four-time letter winner, captain and held All-Conference Big Eight and All-Academic Big Eight honors. In two of her four years at Nebraska, her cross country team took third place at the D-I Championships.

Perkins, an elementary teacher at Grainwood Elementary in the Prior Lake school district, is married to Troy, who played basketball for the Bemidji State University Beavers. They have two daughters: Jaya (UW-Whitewater) and Taylor (Northern Illinois), both of whom have inherited her parents’ work ethic and desire to do great things.

Jaya is a junior for the UW-Whitewater Warhawks women’s basketball team. Last season she played in 24 games and averaged 11.3 minutes per contest. Her first two years of college were spent with the Division II University of Minnesota-Crookston women’s basketball team. In high school she played basketball and track and field, and as a junior her girls’ basketball team won the Class 4A state title.

Taylor volunteers at the Dakota Woodlands Homeless Shelter in Eagan and as a church youth group leader. She is a six-time state entrant in Class 2A cross country with the Lakeville North Panthers. As a senior, Taylor took seventh place at state with a time of 14:21.3.

After graduating from high school in 2013, Taylor redshirted her freshmen season at college and then competed in every cross country race for the Northern Illinois Huskies in 2014.

Asked what instilled her work ethic that has flourished in her life as well as the lives of her daughters, Perkins said, “Training and practicing and just competing hard was engrained in all six of my parents’ children. We were all very involved in sports.”

Perkins, daughter of Vernon and Margie Marthaler, is the youngest of six children. The oldest, Mary, was on the first few Buccaneers’ girls’ basketball teams during the advent of girls’ athletics in the early 1970s. Next were Monica, Marcia and then Margaret. Two years older than Perkins is her brother, Mike, a 1984 graduate and also a standout Buccaneers athlete across football, basketball and track and field.

“Sports were a part of our life. We grew up across the street from the elementary in Brooten. My dad (Vernon) was my inspiration. Hearing his stories impressed me all through my childhood.”

Vernon, a 1946 Brooten graduate, was a multiple entrant in the state track and field meet. He ran the 200 open as well as the 1,600.

“Coming from a small town, he became the ‘Brooten miler’ and defied the odds. He didn’t have a coach. His gym teacher was the one who said ‘you should try track’ when he was in seventh grade.”

Margaret became a very successful coach in her own right with the New London-Spicer Wildcats as Coach Mike Dreier’s assistant from the 1980s until today.

Mary was a state champion volleyball coach at Clarissa, whose Bucs girls’ volleyball team won the 1985 state title after taking fourth place the year before. She was also the girls’ basketball coach at Clarissa, something that led to an interesting sibling rivalry.

“Yeah, we played Clarissa during my high school years. We were both members of the Prairie Conference. She’d throw a box-and-one on me. One of their games against us was won on a buzzer-beater. I don’t think I talked to her for two weeks after that. We were just a ‘little’ competitive.”

Perkins grew up with a reputation as a runner. She was always running, according to anyone who knew her around Brooten.

“I’d run right along Highway 55 to the Wooden Shoe and back. I’d go south of Brooten past the Catholic cemetery. It wasn’t the best route, but I put on a lot of miles and went through a lot of shoes.”

As a junior, Perkins and 1988 BHS graduate Gretchen Terhaar were the lone members of the Buccaneers cross country team. The school sponsored the sport with the agreement that transportation would be provided by Perkins’ parents.

“My dad loaned our coach (Joe Traen) his car to take us to all the meets.”

The Nov. 1, 1984 issue of the Bonanza Valley Voice recounts that initial season. Perkins entered the Region 5A meet ranked fourth in the state. She ended up finishing with a time of 11:28, a full 21 seconds ahead of the third-ranked runner in the state, Ann Bokeman from Blake. 

The next week, Perkins was struck with flu but still competed at state. She ran her heart out before collapsing about 600 yards before the finish line. It was the first race all season where she did not take first place.

A year later Perkins broke the Class 1A state cross country record by over 10 seconds with a time of 11:06.2, not only good for the state title but also 11 seconds faster than second-place Kari Parker of Olivia.

Vernon talked often with Perkins about his high school days.

“He talked a lot about his training, and he always gave advice and encouragement during the cross country or track seasons. He’d joke, ‘I didn’t have the shoes you do, and we ran mostly on cinder tracks’. Surprisingly, his times were pretty dang good. Even in general, for the conditions they had, times were very good at the high school level back then.”

In the spring, Perkins ran varsity all six years for the Brooten and then Brooten/Belgrade-Elrosa track and field teams. The schools paired for the sport in 1982 when Belgrade established a formal track around their new football field. 

Perkins won the one-mile state title as a freshmen and senior and also the two-mile state title as a junior.

"I remember running around the old Brooten football field. It was all grass, but they mowed a basic track oval in the spring. Once upon a time, they held actual track meets in Brooten and had a 220-open on a straight path.”

On the weekends, Vernon would drive Perkins to Willmar where she’d do workouts on their track facility at Hodapp Field.

In the winter months, Perkins was a well-known athlete across the area for her basketball exploits. Her first varsity coach was Jim Dykema, art teacher, and as a junior and senior, she was coached by Industrial Arts teacher Greg Hagen.

“As a junior, we had a loaded team. We knew we were gonna be good. That October, the guy (Tim Schaub) who was named our head coach was killed in a one-car accident. I remember Mr. Hagen stepping up to take the position under difficult circumstances.”

The Buccaneers ran the table in the Prairie Conference (13-0) and went into playoffs with a full head of steam and dreams of the state tournament. Those dreams ended in a very tight game at Dassel-Cokato high school in the District 20 championship.

“I remember Coach Hagen and his assistant, Larry Sagedahl, putting in a lot of time that year scouting teams.  I remember we were always well-prepared.”

For all her success at the high school and college levels, Perkins recounts her days as a B-B-E Jaguars coach in the 1990s as some of the best moments of her life associated with athletics.

“Honestly, those days at B-B-E were my favorite. I loved those days. Every season, no matter how successful the teams were.”

Perkins was head coach in cross country, girls’ basketball and girls’ track and field.

In her first season guiding the Jaguars, they won the Sub-Section 5A-3 championship before losing out in the Region 5A semifinals to NL-S. 

Two years later, her team starring Erica Walz, Beth Ganyo and Sherri Bierschbach took second place in the West Central South Conference, won the sub-section title and then upset state-ranked Pierz 38-34 in the region semis.

In the Region 5A championship, the Jaguars went back-and-forth with the lead against NL-S before losing 33-28. The Wildcats went on to take second at state.

“Thank God for Dave Frykman in those days. He was an Xs and Os kind of guy. He was the best assistant I could have had. Those days brought some of my favorite memories.”

For all the team success they had in those days or the success her current athletes have at Lakeville North, Perkins will never forget the athletes she coached at B-B-E across the three seasons.

“Of course the better seasons in basketball stand out. I remember all the kids I coached were great, though. They were such hard workers. They never complained in practices or games. It’s a testament to the parents and families of the B-B-E area. I am proud to say that I came from B-B-E and that Brooten is my hometown.”