As rumors swirled through the Proctor community, a group of about 40 students made their way to Superior on Thursday for the Rails’ volleyball game against the Spartans.

They filled a section of the Spartan gym and had a lively competition with the Superior students, doing roller coaster cheers and chanting back and forth with their opponents.

It was a continuation of this week's fun. A larger-than-normal crowd filled the stands Wednesday at Egerdahl Field in Proctor for seventh- and eighth-grade football games against Esko.

Proctor eighth grader Terrence Avey catches the ball on the way to scoring a touchdown in a game against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Proctor eighth grader Terrence Avey catches the ball on the way to scoring a touchdown in a game against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The school district and the Proctor community were rocked in the past few weeks after it was revealed the Proctor Police Department was investigating allegations of misconduct by members of the varsity football team. Football activities for grades 9-12 were canceled for the rest of the season, leaving the middle school teams as the highest level of football being played this fall.

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As of Thursday, authorities had yet to define the nature of the allegations, citing privacy issues and an ongoing investigation.

The game was special for the middle school teams. Typically, those teams don’t get to play on the turf at Egerdahl because the varsity teams are using it.

“They’re a little bummed they don’t get to watch the varsity, but other than that I think they enjoy playing out there and having the focus more on them,” co-head coach Luke Wiss said. “Seems like there’s been a couple more fans in attendance — they’re Proctor football now.”

Later in the evening, more than 100 high school students showed up in the parking lot at the stadium for the traditional homecoming bonfire.

A Proctor High School student is silhouetted against a large bonfire during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
A Proctor High School student is silhouetted against a large bonfire during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jared Podzeray, the other middle school coach and a health and physical education teacher at Proctor High School, said students at the high school were a little disappointed with the situation, but homecoming has been a welcome respite.

“From what I’ve seen, there’s been a lot of them bouncing back and joining in the good spirits,” Podzeray said. “It’s not as bad as it was.”

High school principal Tim Rohweder agreed.

“It’s a good week to have homecoming,” he said.

As a way to spread the Proctor Rails spirit throughout the community, Bay View Elementary School held its own pep rally outside Thursday.

When the bus full of high school band members, cheerleaders and senior athletes pulled into the parking lot, the elementary students went crazy with excitement, cheering them.

“The weather is beautiful and I was really excited for our kids, and they loved it," said Bay View Elementary principal Diane Morin. "I could tell they were really excited to make that connection with our high school students and show solidarity in our community right now."

Eighth grade football players from Proctor huddle before a play against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Eighth grade football players from Proctor huddle before a play against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The high school band played a few songs and the cheerleaders led the kids through a couple of cheers. The elementary kids were enjoying every minute of it.

"I think this should definitely be an annual thing," Morin said.

‘A totally different vibe’

Teresa Nyberg, a special education teacher at Proctor, said there was “amazing support” for the volleyball team at its home win over Aitkin on Tuesday, but she hasn’t seen the same spirit at school.

“During the school day, it’s a totally different vibe,” Nyberg said.

The staff is trying to make homecoming as normal as possible, with dress-up days, pep rallies and strong support at other games. After 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the controversy surrounding the football program, Nyberg said the beginning of the school year has been difficult.

Jagr Jones, left, 15, a sophomore at Hermantown and Jacob Gundry, 16, a junior at Proctor hold signs at the eighth grade football game during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Jagr Jones, left, 15, a sophomore at Hermantown and Jacob Gundry, 16, a junior at Proctor hold signs at the eighth grade football game during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“The kids and staff don’t know how to process it and move on,” she said. “This is always going to be the year that we didn’t have football.”

Nyberg and multiple students said they’ve been asked not to discuss the situation with the football team at school, but even that presents a problem.

“It’s like, there’s not a football game this Friday, I wonder why,” Proctor senior Grant Walker said. “It’s really hard not to bring it up, but we’re trying our best to just go about our school day and have a regular day.”

‘So much good at Proctor’

With all the attention on the football team and investigation, some students are using the homecoming festivities to come together and put Proctor’s best foot forward, especially at the soccer game at 7 p.m. Friday against Hermantown.

“I thought it was pretty cool they were able to change things up and move the soccer game,” sophomore Carlie Blevins said. “Friday night, homecoming — I bet the student section there is going to be huge.”

A Proctor High School student uses a smartphone to take a video of a classmate performing a backflip at a bonfire during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
A Proctor High School student uses a smartphone to take a video of a classmate performing a backflip at a bonfire during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Others see the student body rallying around the school and trying to block out the negative atmosphere surrounding the district.

“I think with the whole situation and everything going on with homecoming, it’s almost brought us closer as a school,” senior Evan Bowen said. “I noticed there’s a lot more people showing up to games and we’ve noticed an increase in gatherings and everybody hanging out. With everything that people are hearing about Proctor, we’ve just put it on the back burner — we’re kind of trying to ignore it.”

An eighth grade football player from Proctor carries the ball in a game against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
An eighth grade football player from Proctor carries the ball in a game against Esko during homecoming activities on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Terry Egerdahl Field in Proctor. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Blevins understands the allegations surrounding the football team have cast her school in a negative light, but students want to move on and highlight the positives at Proctor.

“I know what happened and obviously we’re not proud of that, but there comes a point where we have to put this behind us,” Blevins said. “We know there’s so much good at Proctor, yet often other people only see the bad that happens, so we’re just trying to do as much as possible to get the good back out there. We take what happened seriously, but we’re ready to move on and have normalcy — school has been anything but normal for the past year and a half.”