Grantsburg head coach and assistant Steve Johnson enter 22nd season with Pirates softball
Marty Seeger|Staff writer
GRANTSBURG – Since the start of Grantsburg’s high school fast-pitch softball program in 1996, head coach Don Bjelland and assistant coach Steve Johnson have cranked out one of the most successful programs in the state of Wisconsin. And while the start of the spring 2018 season is just getting underway, and will likely be delayed for a few more weeks due to snow and field conditions, the bar of expectation is already set high, even though Bjelland’s first look at the team wasn’t so promising. The official first day of practice was on March 12.
“The first day of practice I thought, man, we’re terrible. We’re not going to beat anybody,” Bjelland said. The coach has never been one to mince words. But after working out some mechanical issues, and settling into the daily grind, things started to fall into place, as they typically have over the course of 22 years. Players tend to feed off the Pirates tradition of winning and success.
“There’s some hungry kids out there that want to have a bat in their hand. I love seeing that. You can just see it in their eyes, and the way they go about things. They wanna play. So, I think we’re going to be fine.”
Since 1996, Bjelland has been the head coach of 466 games, compiling an impressive record of 406-60. In the playoffs, the Pirates are 56-16, they’ve won 15 regional championships, eight sectional titles and state titles in 2006 and 2009. They were state runners-up in 2016 and the program has won 17 conference championships.
So it probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Bjelland was inducted into the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in February, along with four other coaches from across the state. Bjelland said jokingly that it felt good to be treated special for a change, and remains humble about the honor. A banquet was held for all five inductees to the WFSCA Hall of Fame, and Bjelland was asked to do a speech. He said he tried to focus on the fun he’s had over the years, with the players, other coaches and the confrontations with umpires and the humbling mistakes he’s made. With his wife, Debbie, to whom he’s been married for 43 years, his four children and seven grandchildren in attendance, it made for a fun weekend overall.
Although Bjelland isn’t one to brag, there’s no questioning the success of the team over the years. Bjelland said there were plenty of others who help to make