There aren’t many times Tom Brandt is speechless or standing still.
His Winona Senior High School Nordic ski athletes describe their head coach with always having the right words to say in any situation, whether to calm nerves or inspire, while Nordic ski community members can’t remember him ever sitting down.
However, when Brandt received the Section 1 Coach of the Year award Feb. 7, there was a chunk of time where the man whose body or mouth is always moving, stood silent.
Brandt is now nominated for the MSHSL State Coach of the Year award, which will be decided at the State Nordic Ski Meet, where at least one skier has made it every season he has been head coach.
Brandt does things at full speed with a full heart and became coach because of an ill-fitting trailer hitch. When his son Gregg’s high school team couldn’t fit all of its equipment in its van in 2003, Brandt volunteered his trailer but ended up driving because the hitch didn’t fit.
At that point, he had never skied and he hasn’t stopped since.
“When he gets into something, he gets into it 110 percent,” said Winona assistant coach Brad Bullard, who nominated Brandt. “He was a soccer coach for one of his kid’s team once. He knew nothing about soccer but he was a good soccer coach.”
It’s only fitting that Brandt — in his seventh and final season as head coach- received the award this season, the same season the team got its funding reinstated after a two year cut, due mostly to Brandt’s nonstop effort. He will step down as head coach but stay with the team as an assistant coach focusing on the equipment.
“He was very instrumental in getting the funding back,” Winona Ski Club President Kelly Skillicorn said. “Tom didn’t want Nordic skiing to be forgotten. We wouldn’t be here without his drive.”
Funding was cut in 2008, as the Nordic ski team was comprised of 25 athletes, a smaller supply of roller skies, mismatched poles and little to no community awareness of the program.
“They allowed us to see if we could self fund ourselves,” said Brandt, who went without a coaching salary during those two seasons. “It was probably one of the better things to happen to our sport. It was really when we did these things and put the club together, brought in the community, that we thrived.”
Two years later, there is a youth program, at least 50 athletes on the girls and boys teams and more than 50 pairs of skies.
“You know how (M*A*S*H character) Radar (O’Reilly) could find ways to acquire things, Tom’s like that,” Bullard said. “He just has a knack for getting great deals on skies and boots and bindings. He’s one of those people that excels when he’s challenged. When the funding decreased, his commitment increased. He had more desire.”
What they said about Brandt:
"He was the one that deserved it (the COY award) the most."
Girls team member Kaitlyn Lindaman
"Tom is the most dedicated coach you'll ever get. He's not just worried about results, but also loves to see the athletes improve and do their best. He's not just out there to see us win, but to see us improve."
Girls team member Erin Keane
"Number one, he's just a solid presence on the team. It's his last year and at the sections race, I was hurting going up a hill and just thinking that it was his last year really motivated me. He has that type of impact."
Boys team member Noah Poling
"He's systematic. He's a dad too and he knows how to handle this age group but he can talk with the parents as well." Winona Ski Club President Kelly Skillicorn