Bakke remains intensely optimistic

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 2, 1999

By JIM LUTGENS&lt!—-&t;.

Monday, August 02, 1999

When Jason Bakke arrived in Albert Lea three years ago, he was young, enthusiastic and extremely grateful to be starting his career as a teacher and the head varsity coach for boys’ basketball. Not much has changed.

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Three challenging seasons in the rugged Big Nine Conference have done little to tame the enthusiasm of Bakke, who remains as optimistic and energetic as ever. He also still looks more like a student than a teacher. While some coaches in their mid-20s have hair replacement systems, the 26-year-old Bakke regularly visits his orthodontist.

Looks, in this case, can be deceiving. Bakke’s youthful appearance is a sharp contrast to his demeanor. His attitude and outlook seem to give him a maturity beyond his years, a characteristic that was clear three years ago.

“I really believe I’m a very optimistic person,” said Bakke. “I believe you have a choice every day as to the attitude you’re going to carry into that day. I choose to put a smile on my face and look toward the greener side of the fence. I take that with all aspects of life – teaching, coaching, my personal life.”

As for wins and losses, Bakke takes the approach that while they’re important, they’re definitely not the bottom line.

“I don’t believe, 20 years from now, someone will remember how many wins and losses we had in 1997,” said Bakke. “Hopefully, they will remember what kind of person I was or the influence I had on some student-athletes.”

Most everyone feels Bakke has had a very positive influence on Albert Lea boys’ basketball. He took over a program in turmoil three years ago, when he became the Tigers’ fourth head coach in five years. Bakke’s teams have won 20 games against 50 losses, finishing 5-18 this past season.

While Bakke admits more wins would be nice, he feels the journey, in this case, is more important than the destination and that the real triumphs come through learning, growing and maturing.

“Sure, I would like to see more tallies in the win column, and the athletes would too,” said Bakke. “However, you don’t evaluate yourself as an athlete or a coach by the win column.”

Bakke referred to a quote by former UCLA coach John Wooden, who said, “There is no substitute for hard work.”

“I work hard as a teacher and as a coach, and I expect my athletes to work hard too,” said Bakke. “I’m trying to use basketball as a pipeline to their future. You work hard in basketball, you set your goals, and you go out in life and do the same thing. There will always be obstacles in your path, but you meet those obstacles head on and get through it. That’s the big picture.”

Bakke has been working hard this offseason trying to improve the picture for Tiger basketball. In addition to holding open gym, Bakke has coached a group of high school boys in four summer tournaments. He’s also instituted a 300-hour club, rewarding players for 300 hours of summer basketball, and helped set up a winter league among Albert Lea’s fourth and fifth-graders.

“Last year we had around 85 fourth and fifth-graders. ” said Bakke. “We’re working to build the fundamentals at a very young age. In the Big Nine, you have to.”

Bakke realizes competing in the Big Nine is difficult for the smallest school in the conference, but he’s confident a championship is not out of the question for his Tigers.

“I firmly believe Albert Lea basketball will enjoy winning a Big Nine championship in future years,” said Bakke. “You must set your goals high and work hard to achieve them. How can you ever achieve something if you don’t believe it can happen? We may not have 700 kids to choose from, like the Rochester schools, or the facilities some schools have. But if the kids work hard, set their goals and believe they can do it, it will happen.”

While Bakke’s outlook has not changed in three years, some other things have.

Bakke got married a year ago July 25 and he and his wife, Dana, a 1994 graduate of Maple River High School and 1998 Augustana graduate, recently purchased a house in Albert Lea. And Bakke is set to earn a masters degree in curriculum instruction in December.

Bakke said he may pursue an administrative position in the future, but for now he’s perfectly content with where he is.

“I like Albert Lea,” said Bakke. “Albert Lea has been very good to me. I’m extremely happy to have the opportunity to be a teacher and coach in School District 241. Three years ago I felt this way, and I still consider myself very lucky work with kids every day. Work goes so fast. No matter what kind of mood I’m in, they can always put a smile on my face.”