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Trainer Mike Gogolin reflects on time at Superior High School

“Really what made my job enjoyable was the people. Yes, I’m there to be around sports and treat injuries and that kind of thing, but it's the relationships that I’ve built that I’m going to hold the most dear,” the Spartans' longtime athletic trainer said.

Trainer Mike Gogolin, left, holds a towel onto the face of Superior’s Tristan Brennan (3) after Brennan was hit by a pitch
Mike Gogolin, left, holds a towel onto the face of Superior’s Tristan Brennan (3) after Brennan was hit by a pitch in the Spartans’ playoff game with Chippewa Falls in Superior in May. Gogolin, who has served as Superior’s athletic trainer for 18 years, is stepping back from looking after the Spartan athletes this coming school year.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — After 18 years working the sidelines at games and helping student-athletes at Superior High School, Mike Gogolin is starting a new chapter in his career.

Trainer Mike, as he’s known at SHS, was an athletic trainer assigned to the high school as part of its contract with Essentia Health. As of July 1, he is the athletic training supervisor for Essentia Health, working with athletic trainers and schools the health care system has partnered with, he said.

While he loves working with students, coaches and parents, he said he took on supervisory duties a few years ago and realized this past semester that he was spreading himself too thin. In addition to working at the high school and taking care of managerial duties, Gogolin was also working at Essentia Health’s orthopedic clinic.

“A couple years ago when I got the job, my superiors said, ‘Hey at some point, you’re probably going to have to off-load some of those things in order to do what you’re doing,’ and I’m like ‘Nah, I can juggle it all. It’ll be fine,’” Gogolin said.

“It became very apparent probably the last half of this past school year it was going to be coming sooner than I wanted as far as being done at the high school,” he said.

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Brandee Dittbrender and Tanner Sterling will step in to fill Gogolin's shoes. Dittbrender started working with Gogolin at SHS over the winter, and Sterling, a 2017 Superior graduate who recently earned a degree from the College of St. Scholastica, will start this summer.

Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, right, carries a water jug with Spartan super fan Josh Noble
Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, right, carries a water jug with Spartan super fan Josh Noble before a volleyball game in October 2011.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Gogolin said he got into athletic training because he wanted to stay connected to sports after high school, and he enjoyed the science and health care components of the field.

One of the biggest challenges of working as an athletic trainer are the hours, he said.

“It’s not an 8-5 job. It’s really kind of dependent on when the sports are around,” he said.

Gogolin and his wife, Steph, have four children under age 6. Steph, who works at Denfeld High School in Duluth, is also an athletic trainer.

“So family time was difficult. Not being home at bedtime with the kids was kind of tough, so from a personal perspective, that’s going to be a lot better,” he said.

Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, top, checks on Spartan goalie Jarret Byrnes (1)
Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, top, checks on Spartan goalie Jarret Byrnes (1) during a soccer game in August 2012. Byrnes went on to become an athletic trainer after high school.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Building relationships with coaches, students and their families was Gogolin’s favorite part of the job.

“Really what made my job enjoyable was the people. Yes, I’m there to be around sports and treat injuries and that kind of thing, but it's the relationships that I’ve built that I’m going to hold the most dear,” he said.

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Ella Olson, SHS activities director, said from the first time she met Gogolin she could see he was a team player, as well as someone whose openness and communication cultivated trust with coaches and students.

“You can see the relationships he’s built with coaches over the years. They trust what he says, and I think that’s a huge thing,” Olson said.

Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, center, holds up a cooler for a Spartan basketball player
Superior trainer Mike Gogolin, center, holds up a cooler for a Spartan basketball player during a game in Superior in January 2010.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

It’s a fine line to walk, Gogolin said.

When he first started at the high school, Gogolin said he had to stand his ground, trust his training and explain his thought process to coaches and athletes.

“My job is not to hold kids out of activity and be a mean guy. I would love it if everybody could just play,” he said. “But my job is to be there and be kind of the guardian, and do what’s in the best interest of their health care.”

During his years at SHS, Gogolin helped implement the high school’s concussion protocol, ImPACT Concussion Testing. Every student-athlete takes an online test before their season starts to set a baseline. If they suffer an injury where they have a concussion or are suspected of having a concussion, the athletic training staff administers another test to see how it matches up with the student’s earlier test.

That work has helped make sports safer at SHS, particularly football, said head football coach Bob DeMeyer.

“A brain injury is just like other injuries — it has to be diagnosed and treated and you need to be accurate,” DeMeyer said.

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DeMeyer and Gogolin bonded over their love of music, especially live music. Gogolin’s sense of humor helped lift DeMeyer’s spirits on the sidelines, as well, the coach said.

“He’s helped me in a lot of ways, whether it’s walking up behind me on the sidelines and patting me on the back and telling me to relax, or so-and-so is going to be OK, or cracking a joke and smiling at me,” DeMeyer said. “He’s got that kind of personality, and he’s just fun to be around and we are certainly going to miss him.”

While he won’t be a fixture on the sidelines going forward, Gogolin said he’ll still be around the high school on occasion, checking in with Olson, Dittbrender, Sterling and SHS coaches.

That’s something the Spartans appreciate.

“We’re going to miss Mike,” Olson said. “He did so much for Superior High School, but in his new role I know we’re still going to see him and he’s still going to have a huge role in what we do.”

Related Topics: SUPERIOR SPARTANS
Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten is the regional editor for Duluth Media Group, overseeing the Cloquet Pine Journal and the Superior Telegram.
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