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Packers softball coach has had an impressive run

Pat Johnson, West Fargo girls softball coach, talks to his team about an upcoming game before batting practice in this 2009 photo. Pioneer file photo

When people think of West Fargo fast-pitch softball, they think of success. Head coach Pat Johnson wouldn’t have it any other way.

Whereas most teams can recall the last time they were victorious in a championship game, the Packers have a difficult time recalling a year where they didn’t win the big title.

For 11 straight years, Johnson coached the Packers club team to championships. When fast-pitch became officially sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Athletic Association in 2009, the winning didn’t stop. The Packers continued to reign supreme by winning the first-ever North Dakota state fast-pitch title and proceeded to win the next five after that.

Johnson grew up playing baseball in Harwood, N.D., but when he was 14, his brothers needed an extra glove on the softball field, so he decided to give it a go.

“It was a small-town thing,” Johnson said. “My brothers played it in Harwood, and they needed a pitcher.”

Unbeknownst to him at the time, putting his skills to test on the softball field led him down a path that has developed into a successful career as not only a coach, but also a player.

Put aside Johnson’s impressive resume as head coach of the Packers, and you’re left with an impressive career as a player. Apart from being the winningest coach in North Dakota fast-pitch history, Johnson has played on teams that have won a total of 12 state titles, four regional titles and one national title. He’s also played in 10 world tournaments and was selected to three all-American teams.

While Johnson was an assistant coach for Minnesota State University Moorhead, he was approached and asked if he’d be interested in helping develop a softball program in West Fargo, and before he knew it, he was the head coach of the Packers club team.

The Packers can sum up a portion of their success to having an experienced and knowledgeable coach. But there’s something else that sets them apart from most teams, and that’s team chemistry.

When the school year comes to an end, most players say their goodbyes until next year. But that’s not the case for Johnson and the Packers. When summer finally decides to show up in the Red River Valley, Johnson and the Packers begin the transition into the traveling softball season.

Johnson coaches the West Fargo Impact, the city’s traveling softball program, and this year his 18-under team took its seemingly annual trip to the American Softball Association National Championship. The team is a spitting image of the Packers’ high school team, meaning that while most teams are taking time off for the summer, the Packers are hard at work building bonds with teammates.

“When you go to these tournaments, you’re playing All-Star teams that are handpicked,” Johnson said. “We’re probably the only team that goes down as a high school team. They get along really well.”

The Impact breezed through the competition at state, winning every game by the eight-run, 12-run, or 15-run rule, to advance to nationals.

They’ve traveled to Rochester, Minn., and Mankato, Minn., to compete in nationals before and most recently made the nine-hour trek to Gillette, Wyo., where they finished in fourth place at this year’s tournament.

But after traveling all those miles, there’s still one place the team has yet to make a stop, and that’s the champion’s podium.