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Jonathan Breitbarth (’97), Amanda Johnson (Behnke, ’08) and Taylor Ramirez (Auman, ’13, MBA ’15) have more in common than the fact that all three are Concordia St. Paul alumni. In addition to their academic ties to Concordia, all three are united by a common theme: each is a head coach for the very team that they were a part of during their time as a CSP student-athlete. Through that lens, each have seen what makes Concordia so unique and are thrilled to be in positions to continue to pass those experiences on to current and future Golden Bears.
Jonathan Breitbarth (’97) came from Minnesota’s Iron Range in Chisolm and had dreams of seeking an educational path in pre-engineering as he explored his options to run at the next level. Feeling called to pursue his education in a Lutheran setting, coupled with his desire to be in a more diverse area, Breitbarth was drawn to Concordia midway through his college career and transferred from Saint John’s University.
Amanda Johnson (Behnke, ’08) was recruited by Concordia in the mid-2000’s out of St. Croix Lutheran High School, but the Eagan, Minn. native had dreams of playing NCAA Division I basketball, opting for Winthrop University in sunny South Carolina before ultimately returning to the Twin Cities and transferring to CSP.
Taylor Ramirez (Auman, ’13, MBA ’15) liked the allure of the larger state school campuses in the Northern Sun (NSIC) conference and distance from her hometown in Coon Rapids, Minn. Ramirez ultimately gave Concordia St. Paul a second look during her recruitment later in the 2000’s instead of committing to an NSIC rival women’s golf program because “they were a family (at CSP).”
The trio’s experiences came at different stages of Concordia’s growth as an institution, but they each reflect important pieces of what it means to be a Concordia student: a small campus with a family feel located in a thriving metropolitan area allowing students a chance to apply their learning in real world opportunities.
“It Just Felt Right” – Jonathan Breitbarth
Breitbarth’s campus experience spans two decades. He’s the longest tenured coach on campus and is the second-longest tenured cross country coach in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. He has a strong connection to the campus community, serving in a dual role as Director of Computer Services – a position he has earned from his dedicated service and expertise starting with a position as a help desk worker in 1998 when he was hired to lead the cross country program.
“I was hired to lead the cross country program on a stipend,” recalls Breitbarth who was also deciding on a job offer as an athletic director and social studies teacher at a Lutheran middle school in California. “It was a difficult time and decision, but when Dr. Eric LaMott was able to piece together a dual position working the help desk, it just felt right.”
Widely known on campus as simply ‘JB,’ Breitbarth has been part of a lot of dynamic and exciting change throughout his tenure. In his first year, Concordia rolled out a plan to become a ‘laptop university’ – providing all enrolled full-time students with laptops, and announced the move to NCAA Division II athletics to become the only private school in the Twin Cities to offer athletic scholarships.
“Concordia is a special place to those who have been connected either as a student, parent or employee. It’s the sense of purpose we share.
“Concordia Is A Special Place” – Amanda Johnson
As a basketball player, Johnson was a dominant force who could compile double-doubles (10-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in a game) as frequently as the Golden Bears would register victories as a team.
But as ruthless as she could be on the court powering the team to victories, she’s as down-to-earth and professional off the court. She is seeking the same types of qualities in student-athletes as she builds a program for the first time.
“I’m not only looking for great basketball players in recruiting, but great people. I really pay attention to how they carry themselves on the basketball court when sitting in a gym evaluating. I want players with great work ethic and positive attitude,” says Johnson.
She also has recent experiences that can help her relate to her student-athletes directly, coming from a Division I program where she spent two years before putting in three years at CSP.
“I learned so much about what it means to be a student-athlete at CSP, and now as a head coach, I know many of the professors from my own experience, I know how the student class schedule works and how to be a successful athlete under that structure and familiar with the campus community as a whole.”
Above all, she cares about people. It’s a big part of the allure to Concordia for her, and she lives it every day as a head coach.
“I find it truly important to build relationships with recruits and maintain those relationships once they get to campus,” she says. “I want them to know coming to CSP that I’ll continue to really care about them and continue to strengthen that bond. I want them to be happy with their decision to be a student-athlete at Concordia.”
“This Was My Dream” – Taylor Ramirez
One aspect of athletics that many in the general public aren’t generally aware of is just how difficult it can be to get a head coaching position, and how rare that opportunity is at an alma mater or a dream job. This is something that isn’t being taken for granted by Ramirez, who was working hard to get her first crack at a head coaching position following her two-year stint as CSP men’s and women’s golf graduate assistant coach.
“This was my dream. When I found out that the CSP head coaching position opened, my jaw dropped. I was excited and scared at the same time. I had applied for 25 coaching jobs after my GA position ended. I had a couple interviews, but none of them were ‘CSP.’ I felt very hesitant to even want to go anywhere else, I did not think God had this planned for me quite yet, and when I got the job offer just a couple days after my interview I felt unbelievably blessed and am so thankful for this opportunity at CSP.”
While Ramirez was being recruited and considering larger state schools, it was through Concordia where she would come into her own.
“The professors are so understanding and helpful. They get to know you on a more personal level and push you out of your comfort zone, bringing real life experiences to the classroom which makes the learning experience more relevant to the real world,” says Ramirez.
She’s aiming to keep many of the cultural elements of the golf program in place that made her experience as a student-athlete so memorable.
“We take pride in being a family at CSP, and this is true on both the men’s and women’s golf teams and something I want to hold onto. We are one of the smaller schools in the NSIC, and in the golf program that’s something we use to our advantage as we can tailor the program to fit the needs of our student-athletes and be more involved to help provide them with a great experience here.”