Senior Madison Packer brings along a strong support system on her trip to state

Madison plays at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28 in Minneapolis in the first round of state tennis singles action.

Senior Madison Packer returns a serve Saturday, Aug. 21, during a singles tournament in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Like two net posts holding the tennis net strong and stable, Madison Packer has the support of her parents, team, coach and fans as she heads to the state tennis tournament this week in Minneapolis.

The Wadena-Deer Creek senior has taken the school’s tennis program someplace it hasn’t been in over 20 years. This week she’s set to play Thursday morning at the Reed-Sweat Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis against junior Ryanna Steinhaus of Litchfield Senior High in the first round. Steinhaus is 26-7 this season. Packer is 22-6.

It’s been a busy year for Madison who, while working her way through the tennis season, was also voted into WDC’s homecoming court. The former school spelling bee champ is also busy with her studies as she looks to finish her senior year strong among her classmates.

But homelife has been a rollercoaster ride, too. Her dad, Gary Packer has been undergoing treatments for brain cancer. Worrying about her father’s health could be an emotional draw on Madison, but she manages to keep her mental focus in check while out on the court.

It’s perhaps helped that her parents Brenda and Gary haven’t missed one of her games in over a year. You can usually see them at their spot closest to their No. 1 singles daughter. They shout words of support alongside a host of other parents cheering on the Wolverines.


In October it had been one year since Gary missed a game, when he was airlifted out of town. That day happened to be Parents Night.

The Packer family includes Gary (left), Brenda and Maddie. Maddie had a special send off for state on Tuesday afternoon at the school. Contributed by Wadena-Deer Creek Schools

“He made it to track when he was a zombie,” B. Packer said of his commitment to see his daughter at work. “He made it to basketball when he was in chemo and he made it to everything, here (tennis).”

“Gary never wanted cancer to stop anything that he likes to do since the start,” she added. So far it at least hasn’t stopped him from being present with his daughter.

And Maddie likes to have them at courtside. She said having them there is “pretty special.” Even if they just give her a shout or share a smile. It’s a positive boost she needs.

But it’s not just Maddie getting the extra support. Gary also gets a boost of support. T-shirts showing support for Gary’s battle with cancer were worn by the entire girls basketball team last year. Coach Cresap continues to pull out the shirt and wear it now and then knowing Gary is there to see it. The T-shirts say, "I Wear Gray for Gary. His Fight is My Fight." On the back, is the scripture passage, "Faith does not make things easy. It makes them possible."


Maddie plans to play basketball again following her tennis season. She’ll likely finish out her senior year in track, running hurdles and long jump. She's unsure of her favorite sport.

Maddie has made quite an impressive achievement rising to this position in the state as the Section 8A Champion in singles. She was rated as No. 8 in the region. Mikaela Schmitt was the last Wolverine to qualify for state back in 2000, according to the Wadena-Deer Creek School. Maddie has been at the No. 1 singles position now for three years. It’s a position that has pushed her to grow as she’s been trading hits with the best players in the region.

“That gives you a great advantage,” her mom said.

Head coach Jordan Cresap said that in his five years as tennis coach this was the first time they’ve won in the first round of playoffs to advance. He’s seen the group grow from a few just trying to earn some points, to a crew that can fill the many roles and win consistently.

Maddie is impressed with the growth of the group this year. It took all of them to get the team as far as they went into the playoffs. And it's taken a support system of great people to help drive Maddie to her position in state tennis.

Corra Endres (left) and Madison Packer take turns hitting during preseason practice Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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