Rainey’s day

Julie Briggs had a hunch.

As an elementary school teacher, she knew what it took to connect with kids. She knew it took patience, compassion and an ability to relate to them on their level.

She also knew her husband Rainey had a magnetic brand of charisma; she’d seen it in action when youngsters scrambled for his autograph after Maverick football games.

She wondered what would happen if she put Rainey and his charisma in a room full of bright-eyed kids. Actually, she knew what would happen.

So she asked him one day to come to her class at the Milwaukee Academy of Science and just sort of help out.

Former Maverick football star Rainey Briggs now leads a Wisconsin school district.

After the first day, he liked it. After the second day, he liked it more.

“The kids instantly loved him,” Julie recalled. “They were like ‘When is Mr. Briggs coming back?’”

And after the third day:

“The third time that I went into her class—and I’m getting chills right now even saying this to you—but that third time I asked myself: ‘Why am I not working with kids?’ And to this day I think she tricked me,” he says, only partly joking. “I get emotional thinking about it. It was really like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”

What began as a hunch put him on a path that a young Rainey Briggs—who was once written off by his own Madison, Wisconsin, elementary school as “mildly retarded”—would probably never have envisioned. Today he’s the new superintendent of the Baraboo School District in Wisconsin.

While his journey began in Madison, it made a critical stop at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where his name can still be found on dean’s list archives and football team record books from his three years on the team, from 1997 to 2000.

Rainey Briggs during his record-breaking time as a Maverick defensive back.

Things improved academically as he grew older, especially in high school when he met Julie. Rainey says she showed him he could have a future, and that if he wanted to attend one of the schools recruiting him for his football prowess, he’d need to prove he could handle the rigor of higher education.

So he buckled down and earned a scholarship to Minnesota State Mankato, where he joined Julie, who attended on a softball scholarship. En route to a degree in community health, he made the dean’s list several times. And he’s still listed in the University’s football record books (10th all time for tackles with 318, 4th all time for solo tackles with 159).

And after that stint in Julie’s classroom, he charted the path for a career in teaching. He earned a master’s degree from Viterbo University in La Crosse and a doctorate in education from Edgewood College in Madison. He taught in the Verona and Sun Prairie school districts, but has spent most of his career as an administrator, most recently in Middleton as that district’s director of elementary education.

Minnesota State Mankato, he says, provided a foundation to pursue his dream.

“If I had not gone to Mankato, I probably would be a different person,” Briggs says. “There’s definitely a sense of feeling like you belong.”