When Hailey Brinkman was a freshman gymnast at Melrose, she had one final talk with Glen Thieschafer, the longtime Melrose coach who was days away from dying of cancer.
“It was the last time I talked to him,” Brinkman said. “He told me 'You’re going to be a state champion, girl.’”
Four years later, Brinkman’s words came true as Melrose cruised to the Class 1A team championship at the gymnastics state meet, ending Perham’s eight-year hold on the title.
After stumbling on its first two vaults of the meet, the Dutchmen put together a performance worthy of a state champion. Their score of 147.5, more than two full points better than that of runner-up New Prague, was earned on the toughest events of the meet, the uneven bars and the balance beam.
“I was a little nervous at first, because we have some seventh-graders on this team who are like 'lah-de-dah’ and then we fell on our first two vaults,” said Melrose coach
Katie Masog. “But when we went five-for-five on the beam and we also had a great score on the bars, I felt pretty confident.”
Masog, then known as Katie Niehaus, was a state champion All-Around performer at Melrose under Thieschafer in 2001. She recalled that he had predicted this championship when she replaced him as head coach four years ago.
“He just knew even then that this would be our year,” said Masog. “Hailey was a ninth-grader then and we had a bunch of seventh-graders in our kiddie program. He could always tell what was going to happen.”
Masog thought of Thieschafer while the National Anthem was playing prior to Friday’s meet. While his memory was important to her, she said, she didn’t know how much it mattered to the rest of the team.
“Most of these girls weren’t coached by him,” Masog said. “They didn’t know him like I did.”
Except for Hailey Brinkman, the oldest of three Brinkman sisters on the roster and the team’s only senior. Her first words during a post-meet interview recognized the coach who still wields influence over the program four years after his death.
“This one,” Brinkman said, “was for Coach T.”