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Hall of Fame Spotlight: Mike Bialka

Posted: Monday, January 29, 2024 - 10:58 AM

HOF Class of 2024
HOF Mike Bialka Headshot

Mike Bialka

During a sports writing career that spanned parts of five decades, Brainerd’s Mike Bialka humbly decried the spotlight. It’s not in his nature. He was much more comfortable sharing the journeys of high school student-athletes in that spotlight. Now, that is where he really shined.

He served the Brainerd Lakes Area for more than 40 years as a trusted and respected sports reporter and editor of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch. He was a common figure at thousands of Lakes Area contests and events during a professional career that kept high school activities on the front page of the sports section. When a student-participant was interviewed by Mike, they waited in great anticipation to read his coverage the next morning.

Bialka was thrust into the spotlight this past fall when he was selected for induction in the League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2024 in the Contributor category.

“It’s a pretty cool thing, but so humbling,’’ Bialka told the League recently. “I’m not the kind of guy that seeks attention. I do my work in the background. That’s where I am at my best.”

Bialka will join 11 others on Sunday, April 14 for the induction ceremony at the InterContinental Riverfront Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

“When (this announcement) came, I started looking at the names of the people in the League’s Hall of Fame,” Bialka said. “I recognize many of them, but then you come along with the names of Joe Mauer, Paul Molitor, Kevin McHale, Herb Brooks, Dave Winfield. I’m thinking what in the world am I doing in the same place as those people. And add Lindsay Whalen to this current group. Wow!”

At age 10, Bialka moved with his family from Maple Lake to Brainerd in 1965. His father and mother were both teachers. At Brainerd High School, he participated in football, basketball and hockey, but baseball held the

most promising future. After graduating in 1973, he received a $300 scholarship to play baseball at St. Cloud State.

With aspirations of playing baseball at the professional level, he progressed as a pitcher and led the Huskies to a 3-0 victory over Winona State in the Northern Collegiate Conference in 1976. It was the first time in a 70-game string that Winona State had been blanked. In the winter of 1977, Bialka was at a pivotal moment in his athletic career, and life, when he had surgery on the auxiliary artery, the primary blood supply to the upper limb. The procedure came after he experienced numbness in his fingers after a mound session. He continued playing baseball, but in positions that didn’t require constant throwing.

“That was kind of my “a-ha” moment,” Bialka said. “I went to St. Cloud State to study accounting but discovered I was actually horrible with numbers. Not knowing what to do, I explored mass communications with the idea of getting into TV or radio. I have a face for radio and ended up in newspapers Go figure.”

Bialka started his newspaper career in Crookston, Minn., where he spent eight months as a sports reporter and editor. A phone call in September of 1978 changed his professional career when he was asked to come back home to primarily oversee sports coverage in the Brainerd Lakes Area.

With his words, Bialka wrote gamers, features and profiles with such flair that it made readers feel like they were cub reporters sitting next to him. He covered two Brainerd teams that won baseball state championships in 1995 and 2000. Another championship came in 2018 when Pequot Lakes won a Class A track title behind the heroics of Reid Pierzinski. There were also state tournament runs by Staples-Motley that brought Bialka to the Twin Cities

A multitude of other stories are in his files, including the cancellation of Brainerd High School events in the early 1980’s when some Central Lakes Conference schools went on strike. There were also weather-related stories, like in the spring of 2013 when the entire April calendar was canceled in every sport. Brainerd played is baseball opener that season at St. John’s University because of the turf field, but the surroundings were snowdrifts.

Now, Bialka is in his fifth year of retirement and tries to stay away from the newsroom so that he is not a bother. But really, when he returns, he is treated like royalty as the remaining workers in the shrinking newsroom are thrilled to see him and share stories.

Recognitions have followed for Bialka. He has been inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Brainerd High School Hall of Fame. A member of the League’s Media Advisory Committee until his retirement, Bialka was the recipient of the League’s Outstanding Media Service Award. He was honored on Championship Saturday at the halftime of the Class AAA title game at Target Center’s center court.

“That was daunting,” he said. “Thankfully, I didn’t have to give a speech. It was really cool. I’m just humbled beyond belief with all of this (recognition).”

Bialka, Mike

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