Sept. 11 causes 3 coaches to pause, reflect on tragedy

WBy Ben Goessling and Adam Fink

when recruiting in the New York area last spring, Minnesota women’s soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand knew she would encounter many people who lost friends and family in the Sept. 11 attacks.

What Wickstrand didn’t know was how profoundly the stories would impact her.

The Gophers signed two players from New York, but Wickstrand talked with many others who saw their friends lose family members in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

“We heard so many stories from kids who had friends screaming in the hallways when they found out they’d lost their parents,” Wickstrand said. “It was such an eye-opening experience.”

A native of Washington suburb Fairfax, Va., Wickstrand didn’t visit the Pentagon when she returned to the nation’s capital earlier this year, but said the city as a whole has taken on a different atmosphere.

“It’s a lot more patriotic,” she said. “Everyone is more supportive of the nation as a whole, but Washington has definitely changed after being impacted by the attacks.”

As for Wickstrand, she already knows how she will honor the victims come Wednesday.

“I know it’s a little corny, but I’ve already got an outfit picked out with a lot of red, white and blue in it,” she said. “At noon, I’m going to stop what I’m doing, say the Pledge of Allegiance and pray for the nation.”

Three haymakers

last September, Minnesota volleyball coach Mike Hebert’s team was coming off a 30ñ4 season, the best in school history. The team had fashioned a 6ñ2 record, and was ranked 17th in the country.

Then the attacks of Sept. 11 hit, and the Gophers were never the same.

“It was like someone throwing a hand grenade into our season,” he said. “Our practices deteriorated, and the team wasn’t really able to focus after that. It was a chaotic time, and we never recovered.”

This year’s juniors were freshman when the team lost assistant coach Maurice Batie to cardiac arrest in March 2000.

Add the Sept. 11 attacks last year and the death of football player Brandon Hall on Sept. 1, and the Gophers’ juniors have experienced a mind-blowing tragedy during each year of their college careers.

“They’ve had three haymakers in a row,” Hebert said. “But I think they’re stronger for it.”

Several players on the team were close to Hall, and Hebert said the team’s previous experiences have been a source of strength this season.

For Hebert, last year’s attacks gave him a new perspective on coaching.

“It makes you realize you don’t have forever to coach these kids,” he said. “I think I took some things for granted in the past, but I don’t anymore.”

Conviction eroding

one year has passed since the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, but Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson doesn’t believe much has changed.

Robinson has been close to two terrorist acts. He was an Olympic wrestler at the 1972 games in Munich when eight Arab commandos killed 11 Israeli athletes. Last year, Robinson said the difference between the two acts of terrorism would be in the aftermaths.

“A year ago President Bush said you are either for us or against us,” said Robinson, in his 17th year at Minnesota. “But now everyone is going their own way and doing their own thing.”

Though the attack at Olympic Village 30 years ago was tragic, it didn’t produce drastic changes within America. But the past year has seen vast security overhauls, lawmakers debating new policies, and attacks on Afghanistan.

Robinson says while there is talk about punishing those responsible, not enough has been done overseas or nationally.

“The problem is a year ago conviction and change was very strong,” Robinson said. “Now it isn’t so strong.”

Robinson had a first-hand look at ground zero in early October when he took a recruiting trip to New York. The remains of the World Trade Center Towers were overwhelming.

“I don’t think people can understand that much destruction,” Robinson said.

Since Munich, Robinson has known some kind of terrorism would hit American soil. And he wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again.

“It’s not when people have weapons of mass destruction,” Robinson said. “It’s when they use them. It’s a matter of time.”