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End of an era

The 2016-17 sports season will have a different feel to it when practices begin in August, mainly due to the departure of long-time coach Natalie Wrangham.

Wrangham recently announced her retirement from her position as head coach of the Perham Yellowjacket girls swimming team, assistant coach with the Perham Yellowjacket boys swimming team and teacher at St. Paul's school.

"It's been great. I have really enjoyed working with the high school kids," Wrangham said. "It keeps me young."

Wrangham's name is synonymous with swimming in Perham.

"When you think about Natalie Wrangham, even as a young tenured activities director, there is one thing I have known living in Perham, which has been 20 years now, is Natalie Wrangham is who you think about when you think of swimming," Perham Activities Director Erin Anderson said. "She has been instrumental in making this sport happen here for the Perham Yellowjackets."

Anderson said there are a number of kids throughout the years who would like to give thanks to Wrangham for her time and effort with the program.

"She has been invested in the sport. She is someone who loves the sport so much. She had a vested interest at the beginning with her own kids swimming, but it went far beyond in her 20 year career," Anderson said. "She gets the big picture and understands the reason why we do these kinds of things. This is about the kids and the experience and she gets that totally."

Anderson stated that Wrangham was more of a help to him than he was to her during their time working together.

"The kind of person that she is in the community and with her friends and the people that know her, know it's not just about swimming; it's probably what you get from her in all aspects of her life," Anderson said. "She is a fine person, a good coach, competitive and I can't say it enough, she gets the big picture and doesn't get lost in the wins and losses and the competitiveness that comes with sport."

After moving to Perham, her son, Steve, was entering the eighth grade. They found out there wasn't a swimming program in Perham, so they approached the school board, hoping to form a cooperative with Detroit Lakes. They were unable to merge that first year due to Minnesota State High School League's voting regulations. However, Steven competed individually as an exhibition swimmer and diver.

The co-op between Perham and Detroit Lakes was approved in 1995, with Nicole Kophler and Cassie Dockter being the first members from Perham on the team.

During that summer, Wrangham and Echo Dockter started the Lakes Area Penguin Swimmers program in Perham, which allowed the kids to swim during the summer.

"It has been very fun. I went into it hoping to keep my own son involved and active," Natalie Wrangham said. "When we started the age group program, we were surprised we had 16 swimmers that first summer. It was so much fun. To see it grow, where the teams got big enough to come back to Perham, have their own teams and watched how the times have dropped, has just been amazing."

Wrangham said Echo Dockter and Sherri Ressler were influences and great help to Wrangham during her career. She coached under Ressler when she was the head coach of the boys and girls programs. She added it's been a lot of fun coaching with Trent Swanson.

Swanson and Wrangham coached with each other for six seasons, developing a strong bond over that time.

"Natalie is someone I didn't know real well and now is one of my best friends," Swanson said. "She is one of the people I go to. We think alike. When I'm going in the wrong direction, she doesn't mind calling me out or vice-versa. We have that working relationship that is unbelievable."

Swanson said the one constant with the Perham swimming team has been Wrangham.

"She knows how to talk to kids. She knows how to relate and how to get them through," Swanson said. "She has always been there. I'm not exactly sure what we are going to do without her there."

Swanson said she has left the program in a pretty good place. The program has grown over the 20 years it has been in Perham.

"The girls program has just exploded and we seem to have waves of girls that go through," Wrangham said. "Right now, we a big crop of ninth graders and only have a couple of junior high girls on the team and we need to get more of the younger girls to keep that program going."

With coaching more than 20 years, Wrangham has influenced many kids from the beginning of the Perham program.

"It is fun and a humbling experience to realize that I have worked with so many of the students that have come through the program," Wrangham said. "We have families, like the Murphy family, that had four of their kids come through the program. It's been a lot of years and you get to know the families and know the kids. I was at the choir and band concert the other night and it's so fun for me to see the kids in a different light."

Wrangham will miss the time spent on the pool deck as well as the daily practices.

"We have a lot of fun at practices," Wrangham said. "Swimming is a lot of work and you have to be pretty tough to work it out. We have a lot of fun on the deck and I'm going to miss seeing those kids every day after school. It's a great bunch that we have here in Perham. Of course, I'll miss the other coaches."

While it will be different for the fans, athletes and administration to see a different face at the helm of the Yellowjacket Girls Swimming team, it will be strange for her watching from the stands.

"It's been years. I used to do it a lot when my kids were swimming, but my husband and I were both on-deck officials, so at a lot of the meets we were working," Wrangham said. "It will be a little different to be in the stands cheering them on."

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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