The Minnesota State High School League announced Friday, March 13 that the winter sports season championships would be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision crushed the 2019-20 Perham boys basketball team, one of only two undefeated teams in the state.
The Yellowjackets (28-0) were scheduled to play Fergus Falls (25-4) in the Section 8AA Championships at the Memorial Auditorium at Concordia Friday.
Perham head coach Dave Cresap, assistant coach Brian Schwantz, assistant coach Grant Dierkhising, activities director Erin Anderson and superintendent Mitch Anderson broke the news to the team in a meeting around 11:30 a.m. at the Perham High School.
Tears quickly filled the room at the realization that a pursuit of a return trip was out of their control and the high school careers for seven seniors came to an end. Cresap said he was completely devastated when he heard the news.
“It’s gut-wrenching and ripped everything out of my heart, not only for me, but for those seniors who didn’t get a chance to play in a possible state tournament and section championship game,” Cresap said. “It’s just devastating news, but unavoidable with all the health concerns going on. I get that part, but you have to feel for these kids. In my 35 years, this is one of the closest knit teams I have had and they are completely devastated. We had a little meeting and it was a really sad day.”
Perham senior Charlie Rasmussen said it was an unreal feeling when they found out their season was going to be cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We all worked so hard for this and it is what we have dreamt of for 16, 17 and 18 years. Every day at practice we are grinding,” Rasmussen said. “It’s hard seeing a lot of us in tears, ending the way it did. We are not alone, this is statewide, nationwide. This is tough.”
Rasmussen moved to Perham his eighth grade year and moved into a leadership role during his career with the Yellowjackets. The 65-62 victory over East Grand Forks marked the final time he would share the floor with seniors Carter Aakre, Landon Stevens, Ryan Murphy, Gavin Hillukka, Jordan Muench, Gunnar Anderson and Judd Soule.
“Them just taking me in and as my role increased in the program, they really accepted me and they brought me in,” Rasmussen said. “Our chemistry was unbelievable. Some can say it’s one of the best teams Perham has ever had. We were unbeaten and it’s crazy.”
Perham junior forward Finn Diggins said he wanted to thank the seniors for everything that they have done for the program while being overcome with emotions.
“I’d give anything to play one more game with them,” Diggins said. “I love them and I would do anything for them. If they ever need anything in their life, feel free to call me, I’d do anything for them.”
Diggins said it was crazy to think he would never be able to play with the senior group again. He said they have been amazing leaders and they never complained.
“They are all just amazing people and I would do anything for them,” Diggins said. “It definitely means a lot to go undefeated and it feels great to be a part of that. I just wish we could have played for something more, for the seniors.”
Cresap said this was a special group of players, who are hurting right now, but will have a lot of positive memories and impact on the community.
“The sadness makes me feel bad, but in a way it makes me feel good that they really care. They really cared about our season. It was the first time in school history to go 28-0 and have an undefeated season. They set something that might not happen again in Perham history,” Cresap said. “They have a lot to look back on but it’s going to hurt for a couple of weeks and it’s going to kill me for quite awhile. It’s going to affect the whole community. They were on board and loved these guys. Everything was just ripped away. It wasn’t like we missed shots or had shots blocked, it was just taken away. You have to reiterate there are health concerns and we fully understand that, but at the same time, we have 17-18 year old guys that are really hurting right now.”