Show of Support: Small Schools
BY RICK WEEGMAN NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER Need proof that Barnum supports girls athletics whole-heartedly? At the Minnesota Class A girls basketball third-place game last March, Bombers fans filled Concordia-St. Paul's Gangelhoff Center to watch ...
BY RICK WEEGMAN
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Need proof that Barnum supports girls athletics whole-heartedly?
At the Minnesota Class A girls basketball third-place game last March, Bombers fans filled Concordia-St. Paul's Gangelhoff Center to watch Barnum beat Ada-Borup for the highest finish by a Northeastern Minnesota small-school girls team in 22 years. When the players and coaches returned home via bus later that day, an estimated 500 people -- virtually the entire town -- turned out to welcome them.
That type of reaction is not uncommon for this small town that prides itself on its athletic accomplishments.
And, school backers say, when students see that kind of treatment, it aids them in the long run.
"There's no question about their level of commitment,'' coach and athletic director Randy Myhre said. "When kids see that kind of support, they have no problem working hard."
Myhre has been instrumental in that success. His girls basketball teams have gone to six state tournaments since 1996, while the softball team -- which Myhre also coaches -- has been to six state tournaments since 1986.
During that time, the school has produced outstanding individual athletes. Softball pitchers Jana and Kristin Ferguson and Teresa Jeffers dominated their craft. Ferguson played at the Division I college level, and Jeffers set an all-time Northland career strikeout record. The basketball team's current star, senior Colleen McKay, is an all-state-caliber player.
How does such a small town (pop. 593) do it?
Myhre offers a three-part explanation.
"There's a lot of reasons,'' he said. "First of all, you've got great students who turn themselves into great student-athletes."
That begins at an early age when youth programs are formed and continues through their teenage years with countless time spent in the gym or the weight room.
Next, a large group of volunteer parents -- a "trainload" as Myhre calls them -- donate their time to help out. As many as 15 volunteers are with the girls basketball team this season.
Lastly, Myhre says, is the support cast from the administration. School officials hold high expectations for students in all departments, athletics included, and work to see that happen even during difficult financial times. Myhre says every School Board referendum regarding funding has been approved.
"Whenever times are tough, when the roof begins to leak [in the economy] ... the community takes great pride in helping,'' he said.
Myhre also has been able to land excellent assistants. When former Cloquet boys coach Jerry Erickson, who also spent four years as an assistant with the Minnesota Duluth men's program, came down 35W before the 2004-05 season it was a virtual coup.
"[Myhre] said, `If you're ever looking for a job, I'm always looking for an assistant coach,''' the 63-year-old Erickson recalls.
While Erickson agrees that the administration and parents deserve credit, he says the program's success lies squarely on Myhre's shoulders.
"The biggest reason is Randy, with all the time he puts in there,'' Erickson said. "He gives his players a huge amount of time to work on their skills."
It helps that Barnum athletes have a place to work on those skills. The gym always seems open to all ages.
"It all boils down to role models,'' said Dave Ferguson, father of Jana and Kristin. "[The younger kids] see that the older kids put their time in and they want to do that, too."
And with six Section 7A titles in 11 years, role models are not in sparse supply.
Barnum, which has started 3-0 after a school-best 30-3 record last season, hopes to make it seven section titles this year.
Wrenshall, runners-up last year, Chisholm and Carlton are among the contenders in 7A. But there's no question who the favorite is to return to Minneapolis in March.
"Anything less than that, the kids feel disappointed,'' Myhre said. "That's what we're shooting for. That's what we're putting in the time for."
Rick Weegman covers prep girls basketball for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at email@example.com