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The winding road home

This photo captures a moment where words were worthless and being charged to describe such moments was one of the most rewarding working moments here at the Perham Focus. While all the state runs by so many teams were special in their own ways, this 2011 boys basketball championship run to Target Center was remarkable. Photo by Paul Gregersen, someone who routinely gave of his free time to take fantastic photos at state tournaments for Perham and New York Mills schools.

See ya ‘round, Perham.

The end of August marks the last of my time in Perham for the Focus, as I have accepted the sports editor position at my hometown newspaper in Detroit Lakes.

I have been covering for both schools and newspapers while the new Focus sports editor, Jason Groth, moves to Perham and prepares to take over what I would describe as a never-ending sprint of road trips and winning.

It’s a full-time gig on all fronts and takes inner fortitude and adaptation. Much like what happens on the field.

It’s difficult to recall off the top of my head all the state champions during my five seasons here, however, since April of 2010, I logged thousands of miles to cover the many teams and individuals that threatened and captured state championships.

Perham’s eighth consecutive state gymnastics team championship, which included a repeat vault state title for Carly Peterson and an all-around state championship for Kelsi Vomacka.

The fabled season of Zach Gabbard’s Yellowjacket boys basketball championship team, editing Lynn Hummel’s book “One Town One Team” and being a contributor to Brent Hanson’s movie “For Three.”

What other small-town sports guy is part of movies and novels?

The continuing onslaught of Perham cross country on Minnesota running - boys teams that won state titles three of four seasons and the one season they didn’t win was a loss by one point. Each year also brought top state finishes for the girls team.

Perham boys XC also claimed two straight national championships the past two seasons.

Keeghan Hurley, claimed an individual XC championship, along with a state 3,200m track title.

Billy Beseman, Dalton Dahms, Nick Carignan and anchor Brady Speicher brought home the 4x800m relay state title to an ovation unmatched at Hamline that year, as the insulted foursome claimed the top spot from the slow heat - and they blew away the competition - two things that will not be forgotten by the quartet, nor I. They won with attitude and talent. That race will stick in my mind a long time.

New York Mills’ wrestler Shane Novak added a trip to St. Paul during his senior season where he dominated at Xcel Energy Center to claim his state championship.

I could fill paragraphs with near misses at state titles and runners-up stories from both Perham and Mills that put me front and center at  every large sporting venue in Minnesota.

Professional runner Gabriele Grunewald has been so kind and generous with her time and her chase of an Olympic berth in Rio is testament to the small town/big dreams mentality that makes up the core values of coaches and athletes in this area.

It was a personal pleasure to speak to Fred Sailer about what he built here as athletic director by the time of his retirement. One of my favorite interviews and people. Fred was a big name to me when I was young, while I was here and is to this day.  

I also took advantage of a situation where I could remind a few of the coaching legend that is Charlie Fleck and the raw deal struck here at the end of his time. He’s still out there helping tumbling kids prepare to be great.

Hans Hanson was a few years older than me when he was a stud pitcher for a high school baseball team at Frazee my dad coached. Seeing him on the diamond always brought me back to a different era, like other Perham names, Howie Kangas, Charlie Nelson...etc.

Watching coaches like Dave Cresap, Jeff Morris, Chris Bushinger, Angie Paavola and many others find ways to motivate their teams in towns not always easy to coach in was an inspiration, a relief, and a reminder that on good days and bad, the good always weighs out.

High school sports can bring the best and worst out of players, coaches, fans and members of the media and I did my best to chalk each experience up to just that.

When it got bad I forced myself to say something rather than just let it occur. The good has a much easier path to the printed page.

I hope I impressed when possible or was at least functional more times than I was a disappointment.

For myriad reasons, things happen or don’t happen, get covered enough or don’t and it’s very easy to lay blame on the one guy who is expected be in all of those different places.

I ask that you give Mr. Groth a break and a helping hand and I hope he is the beneficiary of notes like the following - three of which I displayed in a place I could see every day in my office for obvious reasons.

“Every time we get information out like your article, our hope and prayer is that it saves some other young person,” - Vicki and Frank David, grandparents to Andy Hendel, deceased, (Team Andy, summer 2013).

“Your article will be a keepsake for our family. Thank you again for your kind words and for showing that hard work really does pay off. It meant a lot to us.” - The Sullivan family.

“It takes a person with strong character to admit when they are wrong and say so in public. Such character is built by always practicing good sportsmanship every day in the game of life.” - Terry Jellison.

Apologies are a big part of this job, but so is fun.

I will greatly miss the many laughs I would have had on the sidelines with one of my favorite Perham persons - Kim Jordahl.

It is not without some irony that Detroit Lakes is in town to face Perham right away Sept. 2 in volleyball. I hope to be back in Perham for that game.

See you soon, Perham - from the opposing sideline. It’ll feel weird for me, too.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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