The secret to the Carlson family’s success? There are no secrets — or shortcuts
It may seem as though the children of Marc and Sheri Carlson were always destined for athletic stardom.
He was a 6-foot-6 all-state basketball standout from Fort Dodge who played collegiately at both St. Cloud State and Iowa State University. She was a volleyball record-setter and All-American at SCSU who became a member of the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Their five kids, as could be expected, were blessed with plenty of natural height and raw talent. They’ve received the coaching and the training at both the school and AAU level to succeed. And both Marc and Sheri have been able to draw from their own experiences to help steer them in the right direction from their home in Woodbury, Minn. — a suburb of St. Paul.
That doesn’t mean all of this was simply meant to be, Marc points out. The opportunities have been there for oldest daughter Brynn and oldest son Ben, and they’re starting to come to younger siblings Britt, Brayden and even Bode.
Their ability to achieve at an elite level wasn’t a foregone conclusion, though. And it also hasn’t been a coincidence. The Carlson kids have earned their notoriety the old-fashioned way: through hard work, sacrifice, discipline and the right amount of perspective.
In other words, the Dodger Way.
“We always remind them, above all else, to have fun and be great teammates. The rest will take care of itself,” said Carlson, a 1989 FDSH graduate who serves as the vice president of information technology at Land O’Lakes in the Twin Cities. “It’s never been about forcing them to do anything. We always told them if they wanted to try a sport, we would support their decision. But once they’re into it, they’re going to stick with it.
“We’ve helped with advice and such, of course, but we haven’t been pushy about anything. (The drive and motivation) is ultimately up to them. It has to come from their own love of the game or desire to play (a given sport). There are no short cuts.”
Brynn Carlson is a 6-foot-4 sophomore outside hitter at Kansas State University. Though she also participated in both basketball and track at Cretin-Derham Hall High School, volleyball became her first love at an early age.
Brynn also excelled academically. She carried a grade point average of better than 4.0, and graduated from high school a semester early to enroll at KSU.
Ben Carlson is entering his junior year at East Ridge High School in Woodbury. The 6-foot-9 forward is drawing national interest on the recruiting trail, with offers from 11 schools at the moment — including both Iowa and Iowa State. He is rated as a four-star, Top-50 prospect for the 2020 class.
Britt Carlson is entering her freshman year at East Ridge. Already 6-3, Britt is expected to have an immediate impact at the varsity level in both volleyball and basketball. Marc confirmed a dozen colleges are showing interest in her for volleyball alone.
Marc and Shari’s seventh-grade son, Brayden, is 6-1. He plays basketball and baseball at the moment. Their youngest, Bode, is going into first grade.
“I think the success of Brynn has really helped to push (the other four), but they all do different things and have different interests,” Marc said. “The one thing we never do (as a family) is compare. That’s not fair to any of them, because they’re all unique in their own way.
“The (sibling competitiveness) can be a good thing, but you can’t turn it into ‘your brother did this’ or ‘your sister did that.’ The only thing we require of all of them is to take their academics seriously, work hard and respect their coaches and teammates.”
This summer has been a busy one for the Carlsons, who have followed their dreams to camps, tournaments and training programs all across the country. The pursuit has been more about honing a craft and using athletics as an educational vehicle, rather than focusing strictly on gaining scholarships and exposure.
“Academics have to come first,” Marc said. “We have a responsibility as parents to be realistic about it; the percentage of people who make money playing sports is very small, even if you are a talented ‘prospect,’ so to speak. If you can get to that level someday and defeat the odds, great. But at some point, you’re going to need that degree — even if you do have some kind of professional career (in sports).
“And let’s be honest: everyone is one injury away from becoming irrelevant. You need to take your college education seriously. You’re a ‘student athlete’ for a reason.”
Marc Carlson has nothing but fond memories of his days as a Dodger. In a way, many of the life-long lessons he learned during his formative Fort Dodge years are now flowing through his own children both on and off the court.
“We just had so much pride in being Dodgers,” said Carlson, who also lettered in football, tennis and track while starting on the 1988 state championship hoop squad. “There was that toughness, that grit, and we took care of each other. I still have it. I loved it there.
“I attribute a lot of my success and development (in basketball) to the time I spent at Dodger Courts. I was what you might call a ‘late bloomer’; I didn’t have the size and ability at an early age. So I had to fight my way into (the spotlight), which is how Fort Dodge kids are.”
Carlson remembered cutting his teeth against players of all shapes, sizes and ages on the 10th Ave. North landmark.
“The courts were packed every day. It didn’t matter how old you were or what neighborhood you were coming from. From fifth grade on, I played there as much as I could. By the time I got to Iowa State, that toughness served me well.
“I wouldn’t trade that experience or my time growing up in Fort Dodge for anything.”
Carlson doesn’t get back to town much anymore; most of his family is now in the Des Moines area. But he added, “I’m still a Dodger at heart.”
“We have our 30th reunion coming up, and I’m looking forward to it,” Carlson said. “We’ll reminisce and share our stories about sports, growing up and that championship season.
“I still have a Dodger sweatshirts and a couple of T-shirts I wear around. That Dodger pride stays with you always.”