[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, more than six months later, is about Creswell HS. The goal is to write two per week all the way to Yoncalla! While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing email@example.com]
Brandi Wittenborn coaches soccer. Boys. Girls. Elementary age. Middle school, and at Creswell High, where she is currently the boys varsity coach and helps with the girls varsity and boys JV programs.
Wittenborn coaches JV softball and a youth softball team. She volunteers with the wrestling program.
Wittenborn is the librarian at the middle school. She is a cheerleader, counselor, benefactor and general do-gooder for all students.
Creswell may have been named after a former U.S. Postmaster General, but it is Wittenborn who has put her stamp all over it.
Wittenborn moved to Creswell, a town of 5,000 people 13 miles due south of Eugene, in 1997. She was from Eugene, but had a much older sister who lived here and nieces who came up through the school system. She loved the small town community and schools and came with her husband and two children.
“Everybody knows everybody,” she said. “When you need something, everybody is there for you. All have one another’s back when the chips are down.”
Wittenborn has always loved sports; watching for sure, but playing definitely!
“If it wasn’t for sports, I would have been a complete mess,” she said. “It gave me my freedom, when I was playing, to be what I wanted to be in that moment."
Settling in Creswell, Wittenborn soon learned that the high school did not have a soccer program. She thought, ‘How can that be? How can Creswell not have one of the cheapest sports, one that I love and my kids love?”
Wittenborn got to work and started a co-ed team in 2002. She fought for the right to make soccer a sanctioned, funded school sport and, by, 2005, the Bulldogs had varsity programs in both boys and girls soccer. She started in 2005 as the girls varsity head coach at Creswell and has been coaching at the school ever since.
Wittenborn wasn’t just coaching the varsity girls, however. In 2005, she also was coaching two elementary school teams and two middle school teams.
“If you’re going to have a successful high school program, you have to have a successful youth program,” she said. “We’re a poorer town and don’t have a lot of volunteers here. I just volunteered so the kids could play soccer.”
Wittenborn coached the girls varsity team for 10 years. For the first five years, the team struggled mightily, losing 60 matches during that span. Wittenborn turned those losses into teachable moments.
“One of our first games, we lost, 24-0, to Marist," she recalled. “I told the team, ‘You can look at it a couple of ways: we just got annihilated or we can survive anything. Because, after graduation, you’re going to have things that will knock you down. And this is nothing.’ They were hardest working team and eventually their never-give-up spirit illuminated out on the field.”
During the last several years of Wittenborn’s tenure with the girls, the Bulldogs were pretty successful, reaching state several years in a row, a rare feat for a public school in 3A. After her daughter graduated, she switched over to the boys program and has been coaching them ever since.
Wittenborn said that it’s definitely different coaching boys. The culture is different and having a woman coaching a boys team in Oregon – a rarity – has it’s challenges, but what she does hasn’t changed. In her words:
I want to offer safety.
I want to offer them the experience to be them.
I want to offer them the love of sports and what it can teach them for their future.
“Brandi is one of the most selfless people I have come across in the years I have been in high school athletics,” said new athletic director Brandon Standridge. “She is always offering ways to help me out without me asking her. And then when I do ask her, she always says, ‘Yes!’ to whatever is needed, so that students of Creswell can have every opportunity available.
“From a student perspective, Brandi treats all of her players like her own children. If their grades are struggling, she will get on them and withhold them from practice if needed. When they are doing well, she is their biggest cheerleader and does everything for them to know she is behind them. She routinely has 30 kids out for soccer for two main reasons: 1) she creates a culture that students want to be a part of; and 2) she is in the hallways (pre-COVID) recruiting students to play all sports, not just hers.”
“She’s an amazing person who does a lot of work for her players and the community,” said Dan Smathers, who is now varsity head coach of the girls soccer program. “Most of it is done without anyone knowing. She donates a lot, if not all, of her soccer salary back into her program and its players.”
“For as long as I can remember Brandi has been a part of the community and has been coaching in some form,” said senior midfielder Cam Nguyen. “She is a ‘go get it done’ kind of person and she will do anything it takes. A most recent endeavor she took on was buying the kids of the boys team socks for our games. That money wasn’t funded by the school. In fact, almost all of the equipment we use for practices is actually her own. She doesn’t mention this to anyone and that shows just how much she cares and is glad to help others. She has offered to help players with school during practices and even write letters of recommendation for scholarships or jobs. Brandi is a wonderful person and she often sacrifices for the well being of others.”
Wittenborn figures she has five more years at the high school level before she turns in her whistle. Her daughter now has two kids of her own. Her niece – the Creswell kid whose sporting events first drew Wittenberg to the community – also is having a baby. Soon, she will have a next generation of family members who will need to learn the game that Wittenberg has both taken from and given back to.
“I can’t wait to teach them soccer,” Wittenborn said. “I’m going to have all these little kids to coach!”
She’ll offer them safety. The chance to be themselves. The opportunity to learn the love of sports.
And for Wittenborn herself? She’ll just be doing what she’s done in Creswell for the past two decades. Only this time, she’ll be putting her stamp on the next generation.