Pied piper of the pool: Dahl's demeanor, experience help draw Packers onto the swim team
West Fargo - West Fargo boys and girls swimming coach Marsha Dahl is equal parts motivator and comedian. Her delivery is short and dry, but the point - or the jokes - gets across just the same. And the results speak for themselves. Several confer...
West Fargo - West Fargo boys and girls swimming coach Marsha Dahl is equal parts motivator and comedian.
Her delivery is short and dry, but the point - or the jokes - gets across just the same.
And the results speak for themselves. Several conference championship banners and a boys state title in 2009 prove it.
She's been cracking them up and making waves at the state meet since 1989.
"I'm old school," said Dahl, whose Packers won a girls swimming triangular with Fargo Davies and Moorhead on Thursday night at L.E. Berger Pool. "Still, I do as much as I can to keep myself in tune with things. I really enjoy it."
Dahl didn't expect to make her mark in the pool.
She was a swimmer at Fargo North, but considered herself a better track and field athlete. Dahl earned a North Dakota state shot put title in 1975 before competing for one season at North Dakota State.
She had stints as a track and field coach at Shanley and North.
However, it was swimming that drew her in completely.
After a couple of stints as a swimming coach at North and a few years as a youth and club coach, Dahl was hired 22 years ago to be the head varsity girls coach at West Fargo. A couple of months after taking the job, she was asked to lead the boys program.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Dahl, who comes across as a woman with a hard edge, has been able to draw in swimmers by the dozens. Her no-nonsense style and compassion for the athletes keeps them coming back year after year.
They all want to be coached by Marsha. And she gives them everything she's got.
"She means what she says and she's not afraid to say what you need to work on and what you do well," Packers sophomore Hannah Reis said during the meet Thursday. "She doesn't hold it back. And she always makes sure it's not just the negative. She's funny. I like her a lot."
What keeps Dahl coming back are the athletes.
She still keeps in touch with many of her former boys and girls swimmers, some of which may be on the verge of sending their own kids to compete for Coach Marsha.
She's quick to point out it hasn't happened, yet.
A lot of friendships and memories have been made over the years, too many to single out just one.
The overall picture, painted with years of backstrokes, butterflies and dives, is more important than one standout year.
Dahl's coaching ability, discipline and attitude have parents lining up to get their kids into swimming in West Fargo.
The Packers have 49 girls out for swimming this year, up from 35 last season.
Dahl said the West Fargo club program has increased from about 19 several years ago to close to 150 participants.
"Marsha is like a parent to the kids," said Packers swimming parent Denise Kuhm, who works with Dahl in the offices of Berger Pool. "She shows them toughness when she needs to and she shows them compassion when she needs to. She's very spirited with the kids. She will do anything to get a swimmer in the water."
Dahl's unconventional sense of humor has become part of the overall swimming experience at West Fargo.
She's always quick with a one-liner, but physical humor has worked best over the years.
Dahl almost each year does something crazy with her hair to keep the kids loose before the state meet.
She's had a Mohawk, she's shaved her head bald to the scalp and she's had several tiny braids.
It's become a guessing game with the athletes. What's Marsha going to do this year?
She's happy to do it to see the smiles on their faces. Although, she admits it's taking longer and longer each year to grow back.
"Every year I tell myself I'm not going to do it again," Dahl said. "But the kids seem to get a kick out of it."
West Fargo athletic director Curt Jones said Dahl's approach to coaching has been consistent throughout her stay at the school.
She's loud. She's tough. She's funny. She's caring.
She's the face of Packers swimming.
"I think she cares an awful lot about them," Jones said. "At our awards banquet, she takes a lot of time to talk about each of her athletes. If you threw me back 20 years ago, that Marsha Dahl would be the same Marsha Dahl you see today."
Except, of course, for the ever-changing hair.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.
Hotzler's blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com