Rubado column: Perham's standout moments from the 2021-22 athletic year
Perham High School had another fantastic year in sports, and here were some of Jared Rubado's standout moments. This is an opinion column written by Jared Rubado. Opinions expressed do not specifically represent the Perham Focus. Any feedback can be sent to email@example.com.
PERHAM – I didn't think I'd be writing this a year ago.
Last June, I was in Alexandria writing about Legion baseball and summer golf as I got ready for a little break before the fourth of July. I wasn't looking for a new job. In fact, I remember feeling more comfortable than I've ever felt at the time.
A few months later, I was offered a position in Detroit Lakes, which turned into more–much more. When I took the job at the Tribune, I had no idea it would land me in Perham as well. Thankfully, it did.
Perham is a special place to cover sports because of the people. Sadly, consistent sports coverage hasn't been a thing for a while. I want to change that.
If you've opened an issue of the Focus in the last year, you should've seen that we're hiring a sports reporter. That absence has created a lot of challenges, long nights and short weekends. While I'd like to think I can do it all on my own, but stuff slips through the cracks when you're shorthanded.
Looking back at the past school year, I'm incredibly grateful for your patience. I genuinely believe every athlete deserves coverage, but I can't be everywhere at once.
When we hire a new sports reporter, the coverage isn't changing. There's just going to be more of it. I love working with the athletes, coaches and administration in Perham too much to give it up completely.
This was another monster year for Perham sports, and I'm glad I captured the best moments. I can't wait to see what's in store for next year. But, for now, here are my standout Yellowjacket moments from 2021-22.
Battle for the paddle
It will be hard to forget my first ever “Battle for the Paddle.”
I like to stand on the visiting sideline when I cover football games. There’s usually less personnel, and I can get closer to the action for photos. I attended every Detroit Lakes football game last fall, and I’ll never forget how it felt to stand on that sideline during Perham’s miraculous 30-27 win.
The Lakers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 33 seconds left in the game after driving three-quarters of the field with 3:29 left in the fourth quarter. However, that was enough time for Perham to pull off one of the craziest finishes in Minnesota high school football last fall.
Colton Hackel threw a short pass to Josh Peterson, who flipped the ball to Levi Richter, who housed a 52-yard game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left.
I was on the Detroit Lakes sideline anticipating a photo of the Lakers celebrating with their fans, who were more than ready to storm the field. It was almost like you could hear all of their hearts collectively sink into their stomachs. It was one of the best football games I’ve had the pleasure of covering.
Frohling crosses the finish line
My first experience with the Perham cross country teams was at their home invite at Arvig Park on Oct. 7.
Some of the best teams from around the state traveled North to run against one of the most storied programs Minnesota has to offer. During the award ceremony, head coach Jeff Morris took a minute to recognize senior Courtney Frohling.
Courtney was diagnosed with skin cancer, which made running competitively almost impossible. She attempted to finish the race that day but came up a little short.
After the award ceremony, I spoke with Jeff about writing a feature detailing Courtney and what she’s been through. That’s when he told me he knew she would cross the finish line one more time before graduating. A few weeks later, in Bemidji, she proved him right.
Cancer is beyond unfair. It’s hard to come to terms with what it can do to a person and their loved ones. That’s why my conversation with Courtney hit home. She’s tougher than any high schooler should be, and she’s an incredible role model on top of it.
A stumble and a celebration
I bet you’re sick of me writing about Jakob McCleary.
I featured his escapades with Nova Classical Academy’s Finn McCormick a few weeks ago. The two had run races against each other before this year, but the rivalry’s first true chapter began at state cross country.
At St. Olaf College, you can tell where the runners are on the course by the crowds of people moving like a school of fish. Near the finish line, the public address announcer updates the more stationary people. It felt like a foregone conclusion McCormick was on his way to winning the state title.
At the time (and probably still right now), I didn’t know much about cross country. So when I saw McCormick stumble less than a football field from the finish line, allowing McCleary to win the state championship, I didn’t have a clue what happened.
McCormick’s body gave out on him in the final seconds. To the untrained eye (mine), it looked like a cheap finish. That was until I spoke with McCleary after the race.
“I ran my race,” he said. That’s all he can do–run his race. He can’t control what happens to the guys in front or behind him. His race was good enough to win that day.
It came full circle again at the state track meet. The two battled down the home stretch in the 1,600-meter race. The future University of Minnesota teammates were separated by 0.009, with McCleary on top once again.
Sports have a funny way of being poetic at their best times. On each of those two masterful race days, both kids walked away with state championships. McCleary won individually, while Nova won team championships in Class A boys cross country and track and field. Perham took second by razor-thin margins each time.
Best friends go to state… twice
Avery McAllister and Brittney Lorentz each qualified for the state diving competition in the fall. The sophomore duo also punched tickets to state gymnastics at Roy Wilkins Auditorium after the Section 8A gymnastics championships.
Both girls finished in the top three in the all-around competition at sections. Each had their own reservations about certain routines, but it didn’t matter that day. They took on a loaded field of Section 8A gymnasts and got a chance to compete among the best of the best.
What made this story fun was how much they value their relationship with each other. These two spent plenty of time together in the gym and the pool, making it memorable for them to share the success of that day.
To take it a step further, this duo was tasked with doing the impossible: replacing Jada Olsen. The two-time all-around state champion graduated in 2021, leaving a leadership hole. McAllister and Lorentz exemplified maturity in this season’s most challenging moments.
Just in the nick of time
I didn’t get a chance to see Brain Ramos wrestle until Perham traveled to Detroit Lakes for a January duel. It isn’t hard to see what makes him such an exceptional athlete.
Every time Ramos stepped on the mat this year, there was a good chance he was faster, stronger and smarter than the guy across from him. However, those intangibles begin to even out at the state tournament.
Ramos battled his way to the 182-pound title match in Class 2A, where he took on New Prague’s Joey Novak. Ramos scored a match-tying escape in the final seconds of regulation before scoring a takedown in the extra session.
Bringing home a state title in his last high school match meant the world to him. The Augsburg University wrestling commit has so much love for his peers and his community. It was hard for him not to get emotional talking about what his support system meant to him.
“We did it. It's not an, 'I did it.' It's a 'We did it.' Because, without them, I don't have nothing."
Peaking at the right time
It’s really cool to see a team figure it out before it’s too late.
The Perham boys basketball team showed flashes of what it could be in a loaded Section 8-2A field throughout the season. However, the Yellowjackets weren’t clicking on all cylinders down the stretch.
Perham had just lost four of its last seven games, all coming against top-five Section 8-2A teams. Perham’s strength of schedule and impressive wins throughout the season would keep them in the top four in the section standings. Still, losses to Hawley, Thief River Falls, Pelican Rapids and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton during that skid created reasonable doubt, or so I thought.
I learned that you just have to trust the process with a team like this because, eventually, they’ll put their best foot forward when it matters most.
Despite having some of the best scoring threats in Class 2A basketball in Micah Thompson and Soren Anderson, the Yellowjackets sharpened their defensive presence to become a team capable of winning a section championship.
In the postseason, Perham avenged late-season losses against Hawley, Pelican Rapids and
DGF to claim another 8-2A crown.
If you look at the roster, most of the offense stemmed from a loaded junior class. Now, they’re armed with the experience of knowing what it takes to win on this state’s biggest stage.
Shopping or Buffalo Wild Wings?
The state track and field meet is one of my favorite days of the athletic year. It's a congregation of Minnesota's top athletes to see who's truly the best this season.
You have to try to not find a good story at state track. Whether it's Lauryn Rustad battling back from several season-ending injuries to break Perhm's 100-meter hurdles record or McCleary bringing home two state titles in the 800 and 1,600-meter races, each athlete has something to say.
One of my favorite interviews of the year was with eighth-grader Gracie Morris. She had just won second place in the pole vault and crushed her personal record. It was an amalgamation of early mornings, pole vaulting camps and long practices.
Amid her excitement, I asked her about her favorite moments from being at state track. She said she loved going shopping but was upset she wasn't going again after the meet. Instead, they were going to Buffalo Wild Wings.
Taking second place in the pole vault is no small task, yet Gracie's mind was focused on turning wings into clothes. It was funny and pure, and I'll never forget it.
Going out on top
The people who decided Ms. Minnesota Golf made a mistake.
Senior Mallory Belka is now a two-time state champion and wasn’t even in the final eight for the state’s premier individual honor.
Subjective accolades aside, the University of St. Thomas commit defended her title at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan despite less than ideal conditions.
On the second day of the tournament, rain forced the girls competitors to golf only nine holes. Mallory talked about how much more pressure she was under, knowing her margin for error to defend her day-one lead was cut in half.
Mallory and Marcus Belka both finished on the podium in Jordan. For Mallory, it was proof that she could do it again after winning in 2021. For Marcus, it was rewriting a disappointing finish to a junior season.