Mound Westonka High School English teacher and dance team head coach has been honored with a incredible award.

Molly Carlson was recently named a recipient of the Breaking Barriers Award and will be honored at the Annual Minnesota National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration in February 2022.

The Breaking Barriers awards are presented each year by the Minnesota Coalition of Women in Athletic Leadership to individuals or organizations that have pioneered efforts to provide athletic opportunities for girls and women of all races, ages and levels of ability. For the past 21 years, Carlson has served as head coach of the dance team at MWHS, where she also teaches English.

Carlson has led the Mound Westonka High School dance team to the state competition 15 years in a row. But she’s most proud of giving more girls the opportunity to compete by coaching one of the biggest varsity teams in the state and not one, but two, junior varsity teams. For these reasons and more, Carlson has earned the Breaking Barriers Award.

“I am honored and humbled to be the recipient of this award,” Carlson said. “Coaching dance is my greatest passion, and I am so proud of every dancer and every team that has gone through the Mound Westonka dance team program.”

After qualifying for the Minnesota State High School League State Dance Team tournament for the first time in 2004, Carlson’s team has qualified for state in Jazz and High Kick 24 times, including 15 straight years in Jazz. The program has made the state finals in Jazz seven times, and took fourth at the state tournament each of the last four seasons. In 2020-21, Mound Westonka took fourth in both Jazz and High Kick – its highest placement at state ever. In addition to the appearances at state, Carlson’s teams have won 12 conference championships since 2007. She was also named the Minnesota Dance Team Coach of the Year in 2018 by the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams (MADT).

“It is very exciting to be the first coach affiliated with the sport of dance to be recognized for the Breaking Barriers award,” Carlson said. “I am extremely proud to represent all of the dance coaches throughout the state who make a huge difference in their athletes’ lives.”

Carlson was elected president of the Minnesota Association of Dance Teams and served in the role for the past two years. She worked tirelessly with the coaches around the state and the MSHSL to ensure the 2020-21 season would take place, despite all the COVID-19 protocols. She was instrumental in making sure not only her athletes, but also athletes across the state, had a chance to have a season.

Carlson is aware that dance is a sport of privilege, and that studio time and fees can be a barrier for some families and dancers. She makes it a point to include dancers who have not had studio training but show the potential and desire to compete. Carlson makes every effort to reduce barriers for those who love the sport as much as she does.

“Molly looks for ways to get more students involved because she knows how important it is for girls to be involved in sports,” said MWHS colleague Sara Schwartz, who nominated Carlson for the award. “Molly believes in giving girls the opportunity to compete and, as a result, she has added a second JV team.”

Schwartz noted that most coaches typically do not add teams at the JV level as it is simply too much work.

“But Molly values athletic opportunities and the impact on mental and physical health for girls so much that she extends this chance to participate for nearly all the girls who want to be a part of the team,” Schwartz said.

Carlson will be presented with the Breaking Barriers Award at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. The public is invited to attend the free public event.

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