MIDDLETON — In a family filled with athletes, educators and coaches, Brent Jorgensen has absorbed plenty of life lessons that paved his own path as an athlete, educator and coach.
The 28-year-old Jorgensen has tried to put that knowledge to use as the first-year baseball coach at Middleton, replacing longtime coach Tom Schmitt, who retired after last season.
Jorgensen moved up after leading the Cardinals’ JV baseball team, and also serving as an assistant to girls basketball coach Jeff Kind and as a freshman football coach.
Jorgensen, whose family includes numerous teachers, said he always had coaching in the back of his mind, which seems understandable considering his family ties, particularly in baseball.
His father, Terry Jorgensen, was a Minnesota Twins’ second-round draft choice in 1987 who played in the major leagues as a third baseman, shortstop and first baseman. He later coached baseball at Luxemburg-Casco.
Brent Jorgensen’s uncle, Tim Jorgensen, was selected in the eighth round by the Cleveland Indians in 1985 and played minor-league baseball. He later coached baseball at Ashwaubenon, including against Brent, a three-sport athlete in baseball, football and basketball at De Pere.
“It was a baseball house,” said Brent Jorgensen, who noted he also enlisted his mother, Susan Zehren, to throw him batting practice or rebound shots when he was practicing his basketball skills growing up.
The sports connections continued when he married.
His wife, Marlee, was a prep standout in girls volleyball, basketball and track and field at Merrill. Marlee’s father, Dave Arneson, and her brother, Sam Arneson, played football for the University of Wisconsin. Her uncle, Mike Jirschele, is the third-base coach for the Kansas City Royals, who was a star multi-sport athlete at Clintonville.
“I had support from a lot of different areas,” said Brent Jorgensen, who pitched and played infield in baseball at De Pere, guard in basketball and was an Associated Press honorable-mention All-State selection as a senior quarterback.
He was on the football and baseball teams at Minnesota-Duluth, including as a backup quarterback for the 2010 NCAA Division II national championship football team.
He savored being part of a championship team and the camaraderie that team sports offered but also suffered several injuries that led to surgeries in college — including for a torn Achilles, ulnar nerve damage in his elbow and a broken toe, plus having his appendix removed. Those injuries derailed his college playing career and caused him to ask, “Why me?”
“This is not how I envisioned it,” he said. “This is not how I planned it. As much as these thoughts creep into your head once in a while, I thought it gave me an incredible amount of resilience and perseverance.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about other parts of the game from a coaching aspect and seeing things differently than maybe I did before, from just watching. … It was tough times. I think on some levels I’m fortunate to have gone through it.”
Jorgensen understands there’s no perfect way to communicate with everyone on teams comprised of unique individuals.
But he believes the experiences he’s had so far observing, coaching and playing sports, including the injuries he’s suffered, help when teaching on the field or in the classroom as a social studies teacher. Those lessons included learning about players learning their roles and finding value on a team.
“I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it and, obviously, it’s something I can relate to,” Jorgensen said. “I think on that level I am able to understand and connect with kids more so than the people who talk about it because I have had the team dynamic thing as well as the injuries thing.”
The Cardinals (12-8 overall, 9-8 Big Eight Conference), scheduled to play Madison La Follette on Thursday in Middleton, wrap up their regular season this week.
Middleton received a No. 4 seed and will open postseason play in a regional final May 30 at Middleton. The Cardinals will meet the winner of Tuesday’s game between 12th-seeded Madison La Follette and fifth-seeded Madison Memorial at Mansfield Stadium.
Middleton athletic director Bob Joers was impressed by Jorgensen’s background and organizational skills and said he likes having coaches in the high school building.
“He’s a quality guy,” Joers said. “His background in baseball — a family background — made him a good fit after Tom left. I think he’s got the players in the right positions and they are working hard. … I think we are headed for good things in the future.”
Jorgensen, who will give up coaching football in the fall because his wife is expecting, is enjoying his first season as head baseball coach.
“I did all sports; baseball was the first one,” Jorgensen said. “And it’s pretty ironic that I got an opportunity to be a head coach here now. So, that’s exciting. It’s been a pretty good year. Like any year, there are ups and downs and trials and tribulations. We have a good group of kids. They are good workers. … For a lot of the guys, it’s the first time in an intense varsity role, so there are growing pains that come along with that.
“Overall, things have been good. There has been good parent support and good community support. I’ve been very appreciative of that.”
Jorgensen continued with Sun Prairie baseball coach Rob Hamilton the tradition begun by Schmitt and Hamilton to hold the “Cardinals Strike Out Cancer” event, playing baseball and raising money for American Family Children’s Hospital pediatric cancer research. The game was played last week at Sun Prairie and Jorgensen said early estimates were the event raised $10,000 to $12,000 — pushing the six-year total to about $66,000.
“It’s important we are active in the community and we don’t just preach it,” Jorgensen said. “That we show kids we are active in the community. `Here’s what we do. Here’s an example of how you can do something.’ I think that is good civic engagement.”
Jorgensen said he’s also tried to stress the process, explaining that where one starts is often radically different from where one finishes.
“So, it is important to work through the process and figure out what to do that is going to make you successful and get the most out of yourselves and your teammates,” he said.