XC: Yellowjackets dream big and win big
NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- The Perham and New York Mills area has been devoid of a state high school athletic championship since the Eagles' Shane Novak brought back the Class A 113-pound state wrestling championship to Otter Tail County at the conclusion of last year's winter sports season.
The Perham boys' basketball team made a valiant run at repeating as state champions with a third place finish. They did, however, bring home an Academic State Championship.
The New York Mills baseball team came back from an opening round state loss to score a consolation championship.
Perham's Rachel Nelson represented the entire golf team, as the Yellowjackets' only representative, at the state meet and came back with an impressive 36th place finish.
However, here in the land of state champs and especially from the "School of Champions," a season went by without a state title.
There is a reason Perham is the only public school to win a Minnesota State High School League Challenge Cup title.
As I have often said to members of the community, "People in Perham just don't like to lose."
As the school year approached, the hype surrounding the Perham boys cross country team was already in place and had been landing in my inbox over the summer.
Not only did this team back up the hype, they created so much more in their performance at St. Olaf this past weekend and over the course of a dominating season.
Barring a freak occurrence or multiple injuries to team members at the state race, the race, itself, was over before it began.
Not one person on the team would say that. Nick Carignan came close, but even he held back concluding with..."we ran well."
The team was named the Heart O' Lakes Conference Champions for an incredible 11th year in a row and repeated as Section 8A champions, continuing a streak since 2006.
Seven runners were named All-Conference and All-Section: Keeghan Hurley, Brady Speicher, Billy Beseman, Jayden Cullen, Nick Carignan, Dalton Dahms, and Ben Sullivan.
Sullivan cracked the lineup in his first year running cross country. That is no small feat, given the pack of runners already there.
Which brings up the inspiring and quiet story of one of the team's loudest motivators on the team.
Senior Mark Huebsch was an integral part of the 2011 state runners-up team and this year's team. Huebsch led this year's junior varsity team and was an alternate on the state title team, along with Chris Knutson.
Huebsch ran in the 2011 state meet, but accepted his alternate role this year with the standard team mentality.
The manner in which Huebsch handled his senior season and the support he showed for Perham's top seven should be commended for a classy display of 'team first" attitude.
The top seven need little embellishment. They made their statements at the finish lines of all their races this year and in impressive fashion each time.
Back to the accolades: Academic All-State - Sullivan, Carignan, Speicher, Beseman.
All-State runners: Hurley (5th), Speicher (7th), Cullen (8th), Carignan (16th) and Beseman (19th),
The team won the boys' program its fourth state title since 2006 and more impressive is the team has never finished lower than second place at state since 2006.
11 state appearances in a row and in the last seven it has been a race between one other school and Perham for the title each year.
One would think that is enough to end a season happy.
Not for this team.
I nearly begged team members to brag it up after the state race with no luck. In mentioning this in an interview with Coach Morris, one of five coaches nominated for National Coach of the Year, Morris simply said, "I taught them well."
That is true on multiple levels to how members of this team are as racers and human beings.
"It was so much fun," Morris said. "It's fun to see guys have that kind of courage. They really made me believe the size of our school does not limit the size of our dreams."
Fun was a remark from every runner Saturday afternoon.
"It was just so much fun being out there with all the guys," Senior Dalton Dahms said. "We had a feeling we were going to do really well."
For the first time in school history, dating back to the 19th century, Perham was named National Champions in any sport.
"This is just phenomenal," Athletic and Activities Director Fred Sailer said in an address to the student body Monday morning at the high school.
There are two cross country divisions ranked by the national high school coaches association.
There are 15,000 schools in the country, 13,000 with cross country programs. 6,000 teams are in the small school Division II and 7,000 in large school Division I.
The Yellowjackets finished the season ranked No. 1 in Division II, a distinction that awarded them the national D-II title and are currently ranked No. 19 out of all 13,000 schools.
That distinction is remarkable in more than just the fact there are only 18 programs of 13,000 ranked higher.
It is incredulous that such a small school could compete with the likes of schools from cities that dwarf Perham proper, from Spokane, Wash., to Los Alamos, N.M. and Louisville, K.Y.
Then again, the current No. 1 team is from Lincroft, N.J., a city with a population of 6,255.
It isn't the size of the town, or school, or even the physical traits of the individual runners.
It's about the size of the heart in each team member and the dedication to excellence as a team.
This year's Perham boys cross country team is the epitome of that and following them from disheartened interviews after the 2011 meet to Saturday afternoon was a pleasure and impressive beyond words and accolades.
The Yellowjackets will try and qualify for the Nike National Championships next Sunday, Nov. 11, at the regional race in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Eight regional championships qualify both teams and individuals into one race for the title.
This year's national champions will be crowned on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the ninth annual Nike Cross Country Nationals in Portland, Ore.
** Below is the national championship declartion*
November 4, 2012
The National High School Coaches Association is proud to announce Perham High School boys cross country team as Division II National Team Champions.
Division II teams represent 3-million students attending high schools with a total enrollment less than 500 students. These programs have been officially recognized by the National High School Coaches Association as
eligible for national championship and All-American status.
In two weeks the National High School Coaches Association will be mailing a large national championship trophy and 4' by 6' national championship banner to Perham High School. The national championship banner is
to be hung in your school gymnasium.
The NHSCA sponsors an Academic All American team as well as selects the National High School Coach and National High School Senior Athlete of the Year in 22 boys and girls sports. This group of talented coaches and
athletes will be featured in The National High School Coaches Association High School Sports Hall Of Fame Museum, located in Easton. Pennsylvania. There is a celebrity banquet each year to honor our outstanding coaches and athletes and the banquet is televised on National Television.
This year's nominee for NHSCA boys cross country coach of the year is Jeff Morris. The Perham story is remarkable as this team has been recognized as one of the overall top 25-teams in the nation, a feat that begins with the passion of a coach. We have found Coach Morris to be passionate, ambitious and an inspirational leader. Coach Morris will be awarded his plaque from the NHSCA this coming spring when all coaches for the 2012-13 academic year are announced and awarded.
NHSCA National Director
Track & Cross Country
The National High School Coaches Association was founded in 1989 and operates as a 501c3 non-profit organization under the IRS laws. The national office is located in Easton, Pennsylvania. The mission statement
of the NHSCA is to provide leadership and support to the nation's one million high school coaches and 10 million of high school athletes.