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Irish leading youth through experiences on court

Parents must find a balance of how to mentor their kids in sports.

Nearly 20 years after her playing career ended, Beth (Ommen) Irish is learning how to guide her children through athletics.

"You don't want to push your kids in one thing or another," said Irish, who was a standout basketball player for Mitchell High School and South Dakota State University. "But if they choose to play, they need to understand what they have to do to get better and work hard. Things aren't just given to you, and they need to understand how to play the game the right way."

After hanging up her shoes with the Jackrabbits, Irish, 39, married fellow SDSU athlete Cole Irish, who played baseball. The two have three children -- Caitlin, Avery and Brooks -- and live in Mantorville, Minn. Beth is a speech pathologist for the Kasson Mantorville School District.

All three of Irish's children are involved in athletics and she is her kids' biggest cheerleader. Irish said she wants to teach her children that being involved in sports can translate to other aspects of life.

"Athletics can help kids get through things and are a huge part of growing up," she said. "What they're learning at the time will one day be experiences they can share with their kids."

Irish uses her experiences not only with her own children but with the youth basketball association in Mantorville. She's been involved for two years. The association provides opportunities for fourth- through seventh-graders to develop fundamentals, so they are ready to play when they get to the older levels.

Irish was a part of the successful Kernel girls basketball teams in the early 1990s. When Irish was a freshman, Mitchell took fourth place after a two-year hiatus from the state tournament.

In her sophomore season in 1990, the Kernels, who were coached by Gary Munsen, were crowned champions for the first time in school history. Mitchell beat Yankton 57-49 in the finals and Irish added two points in the game.

As an upperclassman, Irish started to make the Kernels her team as she led Mitchell to two more state title game appearances. In 1991, Mitchell suffered a heartbreaking 47-45 loss to Pierre in the championship. Irish led all players with 17 points and was named to the all-tournament team.

Mitchell took the championship in 1992, beating Sioux Falls Roosevelt 52-43. Irish once again scored 17 points and was an all-tournament selection as a senior.

"The things I remember were the times before the games," Irish said of playing for the Kernels. "I loved going to practices and doing summer workouts. That was the fun stuff, getting together and working together to improve."

After her days in black and gold ended, Irish took her skills to SDSU, a then-Division II school. She played 115 games with the Jackrabbits and holds the record for assists in a game with 13. Irish, who played with SDSU from 1993 to 1997, is 10th on the school's career steals list with 191 and seventh in career assists with 438. She also finished with 107 career three-point field goals in college.

"College is a lot different than high school, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do both," she said. "We had great teams every year at SDSU. I was best at assisting the game and that was my goal. My job was getting other kids the ball and I enjoyed that part, making the good pass."

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.