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Brandon Veale column: Awards of a different color

Let's take a look back at the school year of 2021-22.

Brandon Veale
Brandon Veale
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DULUTH — Welcome to July, which for most young local athletes is as close to an 'offseason' as they get.

Now, this is the 21st century, so there's travel team trips, summer camps, weightlifting. For us, there's still local golf and auto racing, the Duluth Huskies and the summer-goings on at Minnesota Duluth and around the world of college hockey, to name a few.

In the greater sports world, the Twins and Brewers are leading their divisions and Wimbledon is into its second week, but there is a bit of a gap. For example, I have recently seen ESPN airing cornhole and some souped-up form of tag, not to mention the morally and physiologically disgusting display known as the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Possibly because man cannot live on hot dogs and cornhole alone, ESPN also created the ESPY Awards in 1993 and then moved them to mid-summer in 2002. I've never been a big fan of the concept. What's the point of giving out awards for people who participate in athletic competitions, where awards are given?

Well, I'll tell you what the point is. This year's ESPYs are hosted by Stephen Curry and are airing on July 20, which just happens to be the day after the MLB All-Star Game, the single slowest day on the North American sports calendar.

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So given this rare time to breathe and space to fill, I present an idea shamelessly stolen from myself: The Vealies, a handful of intangible awards celebrating the 2021-22 school year. We don't have a budget for actual trophies, but I'll gladly present a laurel and hearty handshake to any winners that see me out and about. I'll be the one looking like a refrigerator on the treadmill at the Duluth Family YMCA on Wednesday nights.

Game of the Year

We take you back to Sept. 16, 2021 where Hermantown met Duluth East at Ordean Field in football. East, which lost a 19-0 first-half lead, rallied to score a touchdown on a slant to Connery Wiecks with less than 10 seconds to play to take a 25-22 lead on the Hawks at home. There was a kickoff, a controversial personal foul penalty and then an untimed down.

Grand Rapids bounced back for a big road win at Cloquet.

As Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State or News Tribune Executive Editor Rick Lubbers about untimed downs. Though Michael Lau and Beau Janzig do not play for Central Michigan or the Green Bay Packers, the two connected on an improbable 39-yard touchdown pass. We got letters about that one, and not just because we were at Superior that night instead. But it was a memorable night on both sides.

Team of the Year

The easy answer here would probably be Hermantown boys' hockey, but since they've already made an appearance in one off-beat awards program this year , let's set them aside and give the nod to the Superior softball team. We wrote at length about the incredible Emma Raye but she only gets to bat once every nine times.

Spartan pitcher Haley Zembo recorded her second no-hitter in as many weeks and struck out 16 batters in the process.

It wasn't just Raye that overcame a horrible weather year and the perils of being a big school with a lot of long bus trips to reach the other bigWisconsin schools. The Spartans, who were badly underseeded in the postseason, rampaged all the way to Madison. Sure they got beat in the semifinals by Kaukauna, but the Galloping Ghosts weren't losing to anyone in this field.

The Spartans came within a half-hour of playing on Championship Saturday, though that has more to do with the ridiculousness of the WIAA Tournament schedule and a game that started just before 10 p.m. Hopefully they can get an earlier game next year.

Individual Performance of the Year

The thing about sportswriting is that the good stories rarely have the courtesy to space themselves out for you. For that reason, Grant Wodny of the Duluth boys swim team probably deserves better than he gets in terms of media coverage.

According to MSHSL records, Wodny is the first swimmer representing a Duluth program to win a state championship in 60 years.

Wodny's been on our radar for some time, but the position of boys swimming in the annual calendar makes it prone to being, well, submerged under a deluge of hockey, basketball and everything else.

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Wodny made himself impossible to overlook. After dominating the season, he went to the state meet in Minneapolis and became a double state champion and the first swimmer from a Duluth outfit to win a state championship since 1962, coming from behind to win both the 200- and 500-yard freestyles.

And he's just a junior, so maybe next January we can go to one of their meets. Besides, indoor swimming pools feel downright tropical that time of year.

Celebrity Cameo of the Year

I break down a lot of hockey box scores each week during the winter into the prep summaries you see in each printed edition. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Greenway boys' hockey features none other than 1995 Indy 500 and 1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve.

You may wonder what a 51-year-old race car driver is doing playing boys high school hockey, and on the Iron Range, to boot, but Villeneuve is a Quebecer and those Canadians know where to find good hockey.

Alexi Lalas Award For Achievements By a Redheaded Athlete

This is a personal award for me, as I am a redheaded person who has always been on the lookout for role models. Mark McGwire, Shawn White, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Walton and Andy "The Red Rifle" Dalton have all done our number proud, but the ranks of famous redheads contain very few great female athletes.

Seton Hill recruit set new standard for kills and work ethic for Rails’ program.

Well, let's add Proctor's Payton Rodberg. The DNT's All-Area Player of the Year in volleyball, Rodberg was also a standout basketball and softball player for the Rails.

I can only assume that Rodberg achieved all these things for the Rails softball team despite the difficulty of having to apply sunscreen after every inning, even when the weather was terrible this year in early May. It's probably good for opponents that Rodberg is a shortstop and not a pitcher because I can tell you sunscreen does terrible things for one's grip. Every pitch would have been a legal spitball.

Rodberg will play volleyball at Division II Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, ostensibly to inspire the gingers of the Keystone State to do great things as well.

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That ends tonight's presentation. We'll have more some serious awards later this week with the naming of the DNT's All-Area Baseball Player of the Year and the All-Area teams in both baseball and softball.

Until then, I invite the athletes of the Northland to train hard and focus so they can get in the running for next year. Don't let me give the 2022-23 Redhead Award to myself just because I broke 90 at Nemadji in August.

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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