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Impact of mentoring: Dave Mehls

Editor's note: This is a monthly column by Heidi Herron, Regional Director of Community Development for Big Brothers Big Sisters of NW, St. Croix Valley Region. She asked Dave Mehls, a New Richmond Parks Department employee, defensive line coach for New Richmond High School varsity football and member of the New Richmond Slow Pitch Softball Association, the following questions:

Do you have someone who you have considered a mentor in your life?

I've thought of two people who have really affected my life. One was a model for how I coach football and the other was a mentor for my career and other life things.

The first one was Mike McMartin, who was a sixth grade teacher and also the assistant football coach when I was in high school. He was one of those guys who was a master motivator, and he had an intensity about him that made you want to run through a brick wall for him. But the biggest thing about him was the time that he spent off the field with kids. How he talked to you and interacted with you made you understand that you weren't just a number to him. I always tell people that I have more respect for him — outside of family — than I think anyone that I've ever met.

So, when I had the opportunity to coach football beginning about five years ago I thought of him. I try to emulate him. To me, it's not so much the Xs and Os on the field — while that is important, but it is more about establishing relationships with the kids. I try to get to know them a little bit more than just players.

Mike commanded respect when he was coach, and I try to do the same thing by first respecting the kids. By giving them respect and by getting to know them, they will respect you in return. I care about how they act on the field and about how they act off the field. How do they treat coaches, teammates, opponents, officials, teachers, parents? It all matters.

My second person who has been a mentor is John Ball. He was a former athletic director (New

Richmond School District), a former park and rec director back in the 80's and a hall-of-fame high school baseball coach. But he was also my seventh grade basketball coach and my high school baseball coach. I knew in high school that I wanted to go into parks and rec, and when I graduated he hired me as a part-time seasonal employee. Jonny was always one of those guys you just didn't want to disappoint. And just the way he ran the department made an impact; not just the job itself, but he taught me the administrative part of it — the budgeting and finance piece. He would always sit down and explain things like that to me. Plus, he had a passion for it —the details of maintaining the athletic facilities, which is what I do now. And I love it. He loved it, too, and I think I got some of that from him.

How does that attention to detail serve the community?

For me, it's taking the extra time. Doing things like noticing the edging on a baseball field, making sure that the foul lines are clear, things are dragged properly, raked and mowed properly. It not only looks good but is obviously safer for the players, as well. People will do a drive by to check out the facilities, and it shows if a community takes pride in their facilities. Once John showed me how to handle those details, and it made me want to continue doing those things. Now, my son works with me, too, with the parks department, and now I want to pass on that knowledge the way Jonny did for me.

Another thing about John is that his family values were second to none. He lived a couple blocks away, and every day his wife would walk down. He would walk her back and take the half-hour lunch. His daughters would also come down to the park shop and hang out with us, too. The way he treated his wife and his two daughters was inspiring. So, he had that combination of balancing work and family that always stuck out in my mind, too.