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Difference Maker: Melinda Brandt

A good coach can change a game; a great coach can change a life. Melinda Brandt, head coach of Eagle Valley High School's cross country team, is precisely that coach. Melinda was chosen as this month's difference-maker because she is someone who supports student-athletes to perform at their highest potential and fosters exceptional, well-rounded individuals.

In 2008, Melinda Brandt started the EVHS cross-country program. Melinda has impacted hundreds of athletes since then, beginning with 24 athletes in her first season and reaching a high of 60 student-athletes in one season. Melinda has embraced athletes of all abilities with open arms, promoting a welcoming and safe environment for cross country practice.

This is an environment that has nurtured exceptional athletes, but it is not her only goal to make better athletes; it is vital for her to build on lifelong values and lessons of the sport and go beyond this by teaching skills by focusing on the mental, emotional, and social sides of a human. Practice is not only a place to improve one's running and endurance, but it is a place to make friends, build connections, and develop life-long skills.

Melinda and the coaching staff invest in the whole individual, devoting time every practice to teach essential lessons outside of sports, such as developing a positive mindset and leadership skills. These leadership skills have been demonstrated through lead roles in school plays and as captains of speech and debate teams. Several of her former athletes are now using these skills to make a difference in our community, including Gerry Lopez, who uses running to support his mental health and assists youth in our valley with mental health and wellness, and Eddie Campos, who was named Young Professional of the Year for his outstanding leadership.

Melinda says, “I am privileged to coach phenomenal athletes, and the students make her job fun and a joy to go to every day." Melinda isn't the only one having fun at practice. One athlete says, "Coach creates belonging, team spirit, and team collaboration." Melinda has created numerous ways to do that. Each week, she plans one fun thing to do: a color run, scavenger hunt, or team dinner. She wants to bring the kids together by doing something memorable. "If they aren't making connections while running, I want them bonding on other important things outside the sport - building connections and giving them tools to use later in life," Melinda says.

A parent of a cross country athlete says, "Melinda believes in character, growth, camaraderie, and fun as much as competition, skills, and goal setting. Because of this mindset, she creates an environment where the team spirit is the foundation of the competitive spirit to elevate."

Melinda has a history of helping produce successful athletes who enjoy their time on the team while achieving numerous accolades, such as having three athletes on the State podium in one season. Her success goes beyond the stats; athletes are able to develop into well-rounded individuals as a result of their experiences on the team. This is exactly why Melinda is not just a good coach, but a great one.

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