Even when Mike Helmer was young, he had a coach’s mentality.
In junior high school, he stayed late after basketball practice working out with coaches Randy Savage and Steve Janzen. In high school, he studied film after hours with coach Marion Ogden when other players were concerned with other things.
“He was very conscientious about his play,” Ogden said. “He was an all-state player and an all-league player three years in a row.”
A 1990 graduate of Marion High School, Helmer today will be coaching the No. 6 ranked Butler Community College Grizzly women in a quarterfinal matchup with Cloud County in Wichita to advance to the semifinal round of the Region 6 National Junior College Athletic Association Division 1 playoffs.
Helmer said his teams have made it as far as the semifinals twice, but at 30-1 so far this season, he hopes they can go as far as the national tournament.
“It’s never been done,” he said. “We want to be cutting the nets on Saturday.”
Now in his sixth season coaching the Grizzlies, Helmer has transformed a program that won eight games before his arrival to a top-10 team. The program also is in the top 30 academically, after being one of the lowest.
“It’s tough, and winning here is unbelievable,” he said, referencing the successes of the other athletic programs at Butler. “We just want to compete with the rest of the teams at our school, let alone nationally.”
Through his coaching success, though, Helmer was quick to reference Janzen, Savage, Ogden, and football coaches Jerry Smith and Grant Thierolf for molding him as a player and coach.
“Not one of those guys I haven’t talked to in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Today, the Grizzlies have a rematch with one of the few teams they did not beat by at least 20 points this year.
Should they continue winning, awaiting them in the regional championship could be rival Hutchinson Community College, the third-ranked team in the nation. The Grizzlies have not played the Blue Dragons since changing divisions within the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference this season.
“I think the community of this area is excited for us both to make it to Saturday as the third and sixth ranked teams in the nation,” Helmer said.
He also hopes the community he grew up in understands the impact it had on his career.
“It had a huge impact,” he said. “I loved living in Marion. It’s a supportive community with great people that are a joy to be around.”