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The Perham boys basketball team's run to the state title last season was the biggest story in the past two years. The defense of that title should prove just as big a story as it will be a feat. Photos by Bob Williams.

Column: Logged miles and state titles

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With the end of the girls swimming season, a close has come to the autumnal sporting season and did so in a rare occurrence, with no state champion.

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I mean that as a compliment.

As winter sports begin practice, so do I, on the end of my second year covering Perham, New York Mills and the surrounding areas.

Growing up near here and playing against Perham teams as a kid, I had an instinct, as to what kind of athletic area this was and I was thrown into it immediately.

In the spring of 2010, Elisa Moenkedick and Maddie McClellan brought state track and field championships back to Perham in the discus and 3200m run, respectively. McClellan had defended her title from 2009 and she did it in runaway fashion, finishing 80 meters ahead of the next competitor.

In all, 14 Yellowjacket track members made the trip to state and all 14 medaled.

Brittnie Menz put a medal up for the Eagles with a fourth place shot put finish.

Golf season came to a close that season with Dan Cavanagh making his third state appearance, as a junior, finishing 11th.

Holly Karkela made her third trip to state finishing in an eye-opening 7th place. Kaylan Huber, in her first appearance, finished 55th.

State champions and state appearances all seemed fun, but this could not be normal.

I expected a balmy, calm summer.

Who chases a state title when there is no school?

New York Mills baseball, that's who.

The 13's and Babe Ruth team made deep runs to third and fourth place finishes at state.

I was putting the miles on my aging Camry just to keep up with every team trying to bring back a state championship.

There was little break on the local scene, as well.

For good measure, I covered the men's softball league final in town, to see the Silver Moon/Joe's Backhoe team win their fifth consecutive championship.

I even did so without dipping into the beer coolers.

The sun waned, the leaves turned and fall blew in straight to a state championship.

The Perham boys cross-country team ran away with the state title finishing 20 places higher than Plainview-Elgin-Millville. The girls put in a 12th place finish.

Northfield is a long way from Perham and my Camry was beginning to lose it by this stage.

The rest of the season was quiet on the state level, aside from Kelsey Kratzke making her usual trip to the state swimming meet in the 100-breaststroke. In my first winter, Kelsey provided my first given: she will be at state swimming every year until she graduates. It is routine for her.

Back home, there were more things to recognize.

Past successes showed up in Natasha Hamann being named to the Augsburg College Hall of Fame. Larry Hauer, Sarah Happel, Wendy Meyer and Gary Senske were all inducted into the Perham Hall of Fame.

The snows of winter brought in 2011 and this is where it got a little gnarly, not just the driving.

Gymnastics, led by the senior trio of Kelsi Vomacka, Carly Peterson and Mikaela Eickschen, brought home a record-setting eighth-straight state title. Vomacka won her only all-around title. Peterson won her second straight state vault title.

No rest for the wicked or the Camry, it was off to state wrestling.

Shane Novak led the way reaching the finals and coming up just short of a state title at 112 pounds. Seth Hofland and Noah Pesola joined Novak representing NY Mills.

Perham had a contingent of four, Jesse Hein, Brandon Lueders, Cody Nylander and Luke Sailer.

While no state wrestling title was brought back to Otter Tail County, it meant one thing--they'll be back.

At this point, I overhauled the engine on the Camry--safety first. Basketball playoffs were underway.

I don't talk much about last year's basketball season, other than to say it never ended. Who am I kidding? I'm always talking about it.

Perham's run to its first-ever state basketball appearance -- and subsequent nose to the grindstone, traversing of a maze of glory and fortitude -- to the state title nearly killed me. I was overweight, overworked and starting to leak, just like my Camry.

There was a lot of pressure to hit playoff deadlines in Fargo and make sure it hit on our website here at home first, while battling hacks on press row, live tweeting, snapping photos, being part of a team of four great journalists with Paul Gregersen, Sam Benshoof and Ryan S. Clark, and moving from hotel to stadium to hotel just hoping for proper wifi connections to get the story out.

There was also the stress of trying to depict what was happening to the Gabbard family with dignity.

I won't forget my interview with Eagles' 1,000 point scorer Isaiah Bauck, who scored his 1,000th point the night of Zach's collapse and his simple words of, "They've got a great team over there. Now they have something to play for."

That is my favorite moment of my time here. It was eloquent and nonchalant at the same time. Spoken like someone who knows those involved and how they will handle that kind of situation. It had a calming effect on how I covered that incredible title run.

It also helped with much of the post-title work on this team.

Giving Brent Hanson's movie, "For Three," a proper billing and rightfully so, led to working on (think editing 250 pages) the forthcoming book, "One Town, One Team," by Lynn Hummel, which is in the final stages as of this printing.

I was not kidding when I said basketball season just ended for me.

Here comes basketball again, but back to the spring of 2011.

Mason Friedrichs, a NY Mills' sixth grader suddenly was the next state champion. Friedrichs brought home the 120-pound Northland Youth Association state wrestling title and he did so with an ego to match. One of my favorite interviews, Mason knew he was good and he was OK with that.

Suddenly, the Camry and I were back at state golf where Cavanagh, Huber and Karkela made follow-up appearances at the state meet with newcomer Evan Arvig.

But this year, there was a twist. NY Mills baseball returned to the state baseball tournament the same week. Luckily, both events were held in Jordan, Minn. Golf to baseball, back to golf, some more baseball...it was nonstop--it's been nonstop since I got here.

Meanwhile, winners of the past were taking titles at the next level, as well.

Jason Tobkin, grandson of Perham's Mac Tobkin, was the starting outside hitter on Ohio State's national men's volleyball championship team.

It seemed no matter what month it was, individuals, teams, all had titles to be depicted in words with photos. I was bushed.

This past summer, I announced to the team at work, "This is the summer of Bob!" -- an homage to Seinfeld's George Costanza and his "summer of George."

For real, I needed a break as much as my black, 1994, Toyota Camry, now over 210,000 miles, on her third alternator, second radiator, new struts...etc.

It was time to beef up the girl for the coming school year.

It almost felt like I could relax. There was money stowed for the coming snow tires. The Camry was back in tip-top shape after replacing every seal in the engine.

Note to drivers of old cars: if you want to know what's in need of tuning up in your engine, just add synthetic oil. The bubblin' crude will spill forth from the engine where gunk and build-up had held together the last gasps of old parts.

Then, out of nowhere, both Perham and NY Mills 13's were at the state baseball tournament. The Perham Stingers also made it to state.

Terry Geiser, from Bluffton, made a well-deserved trip to the Minnesota Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Silver Pirates baseball team won the state championship stating for the public that even the old-timers still have titles to bring back to town.

Just a few months ago, I knew I'd be back at St. Olaf this November with the defending cross-country champions.

It was a given and nice.

I was prepared and seasoned and covering teams and runners from Moorhead, Bemidji and Wadena-Deer Creek, as well.

I pondered the idea, when I saw Grand Forks on the schedule for the section football final, as a possible road trip the day before state cross-country.

Early in the season, Perham football gave me only meager reason to think I'd make that trip.

Next thing you know I'm booked at the Comfort Inn next to Columbia Mall and the oil is changed in the Camry because it's a straight burst from northern North Dakota to south of the Twin Cities, back to Otter Tail County and off to St. Cloud where the Providence Lions put up a big second quarter to eliminate the Yellowjackets, one football game from the Metrodome.

That makes the Metrodome about the only stadium in the Twin Cities area I have yet to cover a game in, now that I've joined Miss Kratzke, in her usual November haunt, at state swimming, along with Sam Salathe, Natalie Murphy and Bailey Meyer.

As I put a close on fall 2011, I know one thing for certain--basketball season is upon us and given the efforts of Perham 's team last year, this year promises to be full of action.

Good luck to winter sports teams of both schools. Good job fall sports teams. Keep humming, Camry. There are miles to put on and titles to bring back to East Otter Tail County.

Writers note: The paragraph depicting press row at the state basketball tournament is not an insult to all the journalists there. I respect other writers immensely, especially, those from our region. The noun used, hacks, depicts a small, particular group who know who they are.

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Robert Williams
Robert is the Sports Editor of Detroit Lakes Newspapers. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 
(218) 844-1442
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