By Renae Hoffmann-Walker
Put your big girl panties on.
That’s what Century High School cross country coach Julie Stavn has told her team members for years. Now they are telling her the same thing.
Rewind to Harvey, ND where Julie was number five of 10 children. A self-professed tomboy, Julie used to play baseball with her five brothers.
“When I was in high school, Title IX wasn’t signed into proclamation yet so all there was for girls was track, which I competed in as a long sprinter,” she recalls.
Julie’s love of sports took her to Minot State where she got an undergraduate degree to teach physical education. Her first teaching job was at Simle Middle School in 1977, where she also coached girls’ basketball, gymnastics, and track. She also taught adaptive PE at Richholt. From 1978-81 Julie taught PE and coached volleyball, swimming, and track for Bismarck High. She took a leave of absence for a year to complete her Master’s degree. She has been coaching at Century High since 1982.
“In 2013 I retired from the classroom but I still wanted to coach. It’s a rewarding gig!”
Julie has coached most of her career. She wonders now how she did it after she got married (to teacher/coach Rockie Stavn) and had three sons (Thad, Rockie II, and Tanner).
“There are so many more female athletes now, but when I go to coaches’ conventions, it’s mostly men. It’s a big commitment and these days, with camps, open gyms, workouts, and weightlifting; sports are practically year round.”
Julie has coached cross country at CHS for 33 years and track and field for 27.
“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve coached but cross country is a different culture. You don’t ‘play’ cross country like you play volleyball or basketball. It takes a different person to run cross country because it’s hard work,” Julie explains. “The team becomes your family. When you run distance with someone day after day, you develop a relationship; you talk about things you wouldn’t share with others.”
Julie values every member of her team. She says the girls she admires most are those who show up every day, work hard, and are good to everyone. They may not win or even place, but they are doing their best, they are dedicated, and they don’t give up. That’s what inspires Julie. In turn, she inspires her athletes with affirmations and personal notes for each girl before every meet. She also started a tradition of putting dots on the notes that the girls could remove and put someplace as a reminder— like their cell phones or rear view mirrors. One girl wanted to put them on a teammate’s back as motivation, so now they are known as speed dots. Another runner said, “Don’t answer the phone,” which means don’t listen to the negative voices in your head when you are running. That was her legacy to the team.
Forced to pick a memorable moment in her long career, Julie says it was Century High School’s first state champion track team in 1999.
“We had a remarkable group of girls who told me as freshmen that they’d be state champs their senior year. On the bus to state, they said they’d break the school and state records in the 4×800 and they did. They had a goal and a mission; it was truly inspiring to me.”
She also remembers the first time CHS won state cross country in 2014.
“We had a really passionate and dedicated group of seniors that year that led us to the state championship win.”
On one memorable bus trip to the state track meet in 2007, Julie recalls it was pouring rain.
“Before we got off the bus, I said, ‘Today is a good day if you are a duck. There are going to be kids who aren’t going to perform today but it won’t be us because we are tough and we are mudders and we will let them know Patriots came to compete no matter what the weather. So today it’s time to put your big girl panties on and compete. Go out and show me what you’re made of. ‘Who wants to win the big girl panty award today?’ We had an amazing first day,” remembers Julie. “So many of our athletes stepped up and it was a hard decision choosing just one girl to win those panties!”
This spring, when Julie shared her cancer diagnosis with her team, she knew she’d have to put on her big girl panties to get through this battle, which she likens to a marathon. Since then, she’s gotten several pairs of her own big girl panties, as well as cards, flowers, well wishes, and home cooked meals.
“They have surrounded me with so much love and goodness. Kids ask me every day how I’m doing. They know that I feel the most important thing to bring to practice every day is a positive attitude. I’m a very positive person.”
Julie is back coaching girls’ cross country at CHS, as well as being an assistant coach for spring track.
“Julie is passionate about giving kids an opportunity to participate and stresses the importance of being on a team. She still has great energy at each and every practice and competition,” says Bismarck Public Schools Activities Director Dave Zittleman.
Despite battling cancer, Julie is still there for her girls. That “distraction,” she says, is the best medicine.
“I feel blessed to be able to do something I love that’s so fun and rewarding.”
Renae Hoffmann Walker is a Bismarck native and has enjoyed many years as Community Relations Director at Bismarck Public Schools. She and her husband Dwayne are river rats, empty nesters, and seasoned travelers.