Moving on from the game

NEW ULM – Martin Luther College will soon be without one of its longest-tenured coaches and teachers.

Barbara Leopold will be stepping down at the conclusion of this season to end her 40 years as a coach and teacher at MLC. Leopold has been the head softball coach for the past 37 years, but she has been more than just that to many for all that time.

“If you strictly look at her years of service in coaching, you’re kind of doing her a disservice,” said MLC Athletic Director James Unke. “She has been a real role model for our female athletes and it goes far beyond the athletic field with life lessons and I think anyone who plays for her certainly benefits.”

Leopold, who is also the assistant athletic director and a physical education professor at MLC, said her reason for stepping down is a simple one.

“My goal has been always to be in service for 40 years and I’ve been 40 years in teaching and serving in other capacities as well,” Leopold said. “That’s the main reason and to be with family and maybe get up to the lake and do a little fishing once in a while.”

Julie Detjen played for Leopold from 1984-85, back when MLC was known as Dr. Martin Luther College and solely served as a teacher-training school.

“She was actually my one-and-only coach because I didn’t have a team to play on in high school,” said Detjen, who is now coaching softball and teaching at Fox Valley Lutheran in Appleton, Wis. “She hasn’t seemed to have changed too much over the years – she’s very easy-going, very down-to-earth. She made the game fun to play.”

Formerly a coach and teacher at Minnesota Valley Lutheran, Detjen said she had watched Leopold’s teams throughout the years since becoming a coach herself and has enjoyed taking in the little nuances of her coaching – moving in and out of the dugout, building rapport with players in the easy-going moments, leading them through the tense moments and so on.

“I like to think I’m very similar to that in my coaching style,” Detjen said. “She has a subtle knowledge; she doesn’t shove it down your throat but she comes up with great strategy moves.”

In addition to her coaching habits, Leopold is well-known for her exclamation of “Oh Emma!” in moments of frustration.

“She doesn’t yell and scream, she never curses,” Detjen said. “Seeing her rattled is a rare occasion – she’s always in an upbeat mood, which helps out when you’re getting killed by an opponent.”

However, Detjen never did figure out who Emma is.

“I’m guessing maybe there was an Emma once upon a time, but I never got the back story,” Detjen said. “When you say ‘Oh Emma,’ everybody thinks Barb Leopold. It’s just one of those things.”

Unke, who has been the athletic director at MLC for 18 years, said Leopold played a crucial role in helping him adjust and adapt to his post when he first started.

“When I came on the scene, she was acting AD and she became my assistant and through her guidance, I got my feet wet at the college level,” Unke said. “I had brought years of high school experience, but Barb never once tried to tell me what to do; she stood by and helped me figure it out without being overbearing.”

In addition to her duties at MLC, Leopold has also held office in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference for 27 years in numerous positions – ranging from secretary to sport liaison and so on.

“Her influence goes in a lot of different directions,” Unke said. “Over the years, she has become the voice of reason when people get off on tangents. They kind of focus back and they go, ‘Oh yeah, well Barb would know because she’s seen it before.’ She has been a very steadying influence on a conference that has developed.”

Matt Pearson from Abiding Word Lutheran School in Houston will fill Leopold’s spot on staff after this season. Unke said Pearson will assume all of Leopold’s teaching and coaching duties except for her assistant athletic director position, which will go to MLC baseball coach Randy Cox.

“Barb has not only been at the college for 40 years, she’s lived in New Ulm her entire life,” Unke said. “My goodness, she is really going to be missed on our campus.”

When asked what compelled her to remain at MLC as a coach and teacher for as long as she did, Leopold’s answer was simple.

“I love what I do – it’s the ladies on the team and teaching the people that I’m privileged to work with every day,” Leopold said. “I love it.”

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