Track great O’Dell headed to Alpena Sports Hall of Fame
In the heat of competition, Melissa (Brousseau) O’Dell knew how to stay calm under pressure.
As she watched her fellow competitors scream, yell or get angry to pump themselves up, O’Dell simply focused on her faith and trusted her abilities.
O’Dell’s composure allowed her to have a standout career as a high school and collegiate thrower that will soon earn her a place among Alpena’s all-time greats.
She’ll be inducted as part of the Alpena Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 along with Bill Romstadt, Don Deadman, Wayne Christopherson and Rachel (Gebauer) Garant during the Hall of Fame’s annual banquet on Saturday.
During a decorated throwing career for Alpena High School and then Central Michigan University, O’Dell cut an impressive path. She was the first state champion for the Alpena girls track team, set school records, earned all-state honors four times and earned several all-conference awards as a college athlete.
“It’s actually a huge honor because I didn’t even know the Hall of Fame existed in Alpena until it Mike Kollien contacted me and told me he wanted to nominate me. I learned more about the Hall of Fame and I was just blown away,” O’Dell said. “It’s a huge honor and I’m very grateful and very honored to be going in.”
Alpena has a tradition of being strong in throwing events. In recent years, Garant, Emily Ferguson and Faith Weide have been among those who have excelled. Before all of them, O’Dell put together an impressive resume in a two-year stretch, which ensured her place in the annuals of program history.
O’Dell joined the track team as a freshman and her initial interest in throwing came from Tony Montie, who was a year ahead of O’Dell in school and was a standout in his own right, winning a regional shot put title as a senior and qualifying for the state finals.
“I wanted to check out what he was doing and he got me into throwing. He was a very good encourager,” O’Dell said. “After getting involved in track and being there and learning the skills and technique, I just fell in love with the sport.”
O’Dell put in a lot of time to learn the finer points of the shot put and discus. It wasn’t easy, but by her junior year O’Dell noticed the hard work beginning to pay off. Hours spent in the weight room made her stronger, the experience of her freshman and sophomore seasons gave her experience and her persistence made her one of the state’s most technically proficient throwers.
“Shot put’s a very technical event and you don’t necessarily have to be big to do well, you just have to know how to get your body into the right position and know how to transfer the power from your legs to the shot,” O’Dell said.
O’Dell’s junior season remains one of the most impressive performances by an Alpena thrower. She broke Jodi Harbson’s school shot put record early in the year and went on to break her own record three more times that season. She went on to win regional championships in both the shot put and the discus and shined on the state’s brightest stage at the state finals. Competing against some of the best athletes in Michigan, O’Dell won the shot put (42-5) and finished runner-up in the discus (131-11).
By winning the shot put, O’Dell became the first female athlete from Alpena to win a state title and became the girls track program’s first ever all-state finisher.
“It took a while to sink in. My family was there to support me, Tony was there to support me. My coaches were there. It was almost surreal in a way,” O’Dell said of her junior season. “I always had the focus of doing my best. I didn’t go there and try and intimidate other athletes.”
As a senior, O’Dell only got better. She won regional titles in both the shot put and the discus again and came up big again at the state finals, winning the shot put (44-9 3/4) and finishing fourth in the discus (130-1).
In just two seasons, O’Dell had won two state championships, earned all-state honors four times and set two school records.
“Looking back, I think I did have a little bit of pressure on my mind. But at the same time I just had that mindset of, ‘I’m just there to do my best,'” O’Dell said of her senior year. “I knew I could throw far, I had that confidence. I knew I had prepared well, my coaches had prepared me well and I had trained well.”
O’Dell’s legacy continues to endure at Alpena as her personal bests in the shot put (44-9 3/4) and discus (136-4), both set in 1997, are currently the longest standing Alpena girls track records.
In recent years, Ashley Hunault (2006), Emily McAnsh (2012) and Taylor Stepanski (2012) have equaled O’Dell’s feat of multiple all-state finishes at a single state finals, but O’Dell remains Alpena’s only female track and field athlete to win multiple state titles.
O’Dell also proved how good she was against the best athletes in the Midwest, winning the shot put at the Midwest Meet of Champions as a senior.
In the days before social media and the internet, college track coaches learned about out-of-state athletes through national publications such as American Track and Field Magazine and the All-State Sports Almanac. These magazines listed the names of track and field state champions from every state in every event.
O’Dell’s standout junior season made her a hot commodity very quickly and she estimates that she received a letter a week from various schools, including Yale, Princeton, Virginia Tech and Central Michigan.
She opted to stay in state for college, choosing to join the Chippewas in Mount Pleasant. O’Dell committed to the track team first, but received an academic boost as well when she was named a Centralis Scholar.
Despite her high school pedigree, O’Dell came to Mount Pleasant ready to gain experience and ready to learn from Central’s upperclassmen. Even so, it didn’t take her long to distinguish herself and during her freshman season she had one of the most memorable moments of her career.
Many collegiate freshmen aren’t expected to do much, but at the 1998 Mid-American Conference Outdoor Championships, O’Dell found herself as the top seed in the shot put.
As she readied herself to throw, O’Dell found herself staring down Kent State coach Ramona Pagel, a former Olympian. Someone with Pagel’s pedigree made for an intimidating presence, but O’Dell stayed calm and ultimately won the first of her three collegiate shot put titles.
“When I went to take my throw, Ramona Pagel, she stood right in my line of sight as a way to intimidate,” O’Dell said. “It was one of those moments where I just said a prayer and I trusted that God was with me. Despite her attempts to intimidate me and despite (a Kent State) athlete swearing and getting all angry, I just let it rip.”
O’Dell calm demeanor served her well at Central Michigan and she went on to have a decorated collegiate career. She was a three-time MAC champion in the shot put–winning outdoor titles in 1998 and 2002 and an indoor one in 2001.
She was an NCAA qualifier as a senior in 2002 and earned indoor all-MAC honors in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and outdoor all-MAC honors in 1998 and 2002. O’Dell earned several academic honors during her time at Central and was also named the women’s track and field program’s Most Improved Athlete in 1999.
After graduation, O’Dell stayed at Central for a year as a volunteer coach and is still involved as a youth coach in Midland. She recently stopped by an Alpena track practice and was encouraged to see so many athletes involved in the throwing events.
“It takes a lot of persistence, a lot of patience. It’s one of the most technical events in track,” O’Dell said. “Don’t just try it once and say, ‘Oh I can’t do it. It took me a couple years to get the technique.”