Student Sports Media
From the small town of Marion to Wichita South High School, to Butler Community College, women’s basketball Coach Mike Helmer has had quite the basketball journey.
Helmer has led the fight to bring up and make women’s basketball a staple of Butler athletics.
Helmer never thought he would be the women’s basketball coach anywhere, let alone at Butler. Helmer played basketball growing up in Marion, and his favorite sport was football. All the men in his life have been coaches.
“Every male in my family has been a coach, from my dad, to grandpa, to brothers,” he said.
Helmer was the girls’ basketball coach at Wichita South High School before coming to Butler. Before that, he spent eight years managing a personal training facility in Lawrence. At South, the team finished as 6A runner-up.
Helmer understood that although he did not want to necessarily be a women’s coach, coaching circles are built on experiences at every level. Once he was in as the head coach, he had to establish himself. He said the hardest part of establishing himself as a coach and a leader was “fighting the female stigma: proving that women’s sports aren’t second tier sports and can contend with the male sports.”
“We’re doing what we’re doing against the top competition in the country,” Helmer said. “There’s 200 JUCO teams all wanting the same girls we want. There’s 20 JUCOs in Kansas all wanting the same girls.”
He has built a stellar women’s team here.
“We’ve all been building; the assistant coaches (Abby Fawcett, Bryce Winklepleck, who have been with him the whole time) have helped a lot,” Helmer said. “We’ve been able to establish great chemistry as a team.”
“Helmer is a phenomenal coach and mentor,” Assistant Coach Abby Fawcett said. “He always gets our players to buy in and really work hard. He cares about the girls both on and off the floor and I think that really helps our teams bond and want to play really hard. We have a lot of fun as a staff and as a team here. I really credit all our success to Coach Helmer. He figures out what makes everyone successful and does a great job motivating us. He allows us assistant coaches to be coaches. Meaning that we are involved in all aspects of the program and I think that gives us the confidence to really make an impact. It’s just a comfortable environment here and I think that allows us to be great.”
Fawcett played under Helmer before she went onto Friends University before rejoining him as an assistant coach.
The style of coaching that Helmer does may be from a bygone age, but it is still proving to be effective–defense and mental fortitude. Butler, as of Thursday, March 25, is No. 10 in points allowed in the nation at 53.4 points allowed, first in opponent field goal percentage at 29.2 percent and fourth in opponent 3-point percentage with 22.1 percent. Butler is currently ranked ninth in the nation.
“Probably the 2013 team was my favorite team, or the team this season,” he said. “Although the teams are so different, they really feel like family.”
The 2013 team made Butler’s first ever appearance in the NJCAA women’s national tournament and went 34-3. They were sixth in the national rankings and reached the “Elite 8” in the national tournament.
Helmer and the Lady Grizzlies are currently 16-1 this season and looking to return to the NJCAA tournament, and win the whole thing like they thought they were going do last year before the pandemic hit. The disappointment was very high with the news that the 2020 NJCAA tournament was cancelled; they have much higher ambition and drive to finish some “unfinished business.”