Ten years ago, Mary Kulenkamp was attending her first classes as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. A decade later, and married to her college sweetheart, Jon Simonsen, Mary Simonsen finds herself back at UW-Green Bay, working in Student Services.
Her focus is serving UW-Green Bay students, young people and the Green Bay community.
The eagerness to learn and excel, which made her an exceptional high school athlete in Woodbury, Minn.,with offers to play basketball at both the University of Minnesota and UW-Green Bay, serves Simonson well as she recruits students to follow the path through Green Bay.
“My family really pushed hard for U of M because they could easily attend games,” she explains. “I had never heard of UWGB, but something nagged at me and led me to visit. What a difference that campus preview made! I had done a little research and admired the winning tradition of the Phoenix women’s basketball team. The warm welcome from the coach and team cinched the deal.”
Winning has always been important to Simonsen. In her four years with the basketball program came four Horizon League Championships. When her playing career came to an end, she filled the void by accepting a coaching role with the Phoenix.
“I have always had the good fortune of learning from excellent coaches,” she said. “From my high school coach Dave Preller, to Phoenix assistant coach Autumn Rademacher and head coaches Kevin Borseth and Matt Bollant, I was taught that perfection needed to be the norm.”
That meant that every drill had to be done accurately, every teammate needed to maximize her potential all of the time, and each practice and game had achievable goals.
After two and one-half years of working with the Phoenix in a coaching capacity, she stepped away to focus on her job in Student Services, her wedding to Jon, and coursework for a master’s degree in counseling.
“My professional goal was to become a high school or college counselor. So many people have been part of my supporting cast that I now think it is time that I start giving back what has been so generously given to me.”
She hasn’t left the coaching profession entirely.
Through a network of Phoenix fans, Mary Simonsen was suggested for, and offered, the job as coach of a Northeast Wisconsin AAU traveling girl’s basketball team, the Purple Aces. She accepted with one caveat – husband Jon could help with the coaching. Both Simonsens coached the team of eighth-grade girls this past summer, and plan to continue in the upcoming season.
They successfully competed in tournaments in De Pere, Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis. More importantly, each girl will now go on to high school and play with an enhanced set of skills and a renewed love for athletics.
“My philosophy is that young people need to be inspired to achieve in all areas of life,” Simonsen says. “If I can just provide a little of the inspiration needed to succeed, everyone will win…especially me.”
Team Simonsen is preparing for the future by learning and giving today. Mary adds, “UW-Green Bay has fostered an environment that has made many things possible. For me, it has been a wonderful series of wins.”
Story by Betty A. Pearson, freelance writer
Photos by Dean Blahnik