Skip to main content


Hall of Fame Spotlight: Rita Rislund

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2024 - 9:15 AM

HOF Class of 2024
Rita Rislund Headshot

Rita Rislund

It was a bone-chilling Friday morning early last month with the wind wisping snow that created a wall that hid the vast prairie land in northwest Minnesota. Wrestlers from member schools and their legions of fans didn’t dawdle as they hustled into Lake Park High School for a daylong competition.

Upon entering, warmth immediately envelopes them, and it’s just not because of the school’s heating system. Welcoming them warmly, graciously and enthusiastically at the ticket table, is Rita Rislund, a nearly 80-year-old spitfire from nearby Detroit Lakes who is inspired daily to bring positivity and change into the lives of students and others.

“I enjoy what I do, and I look forward to coming to school every day,” said Rislund, a 1962 graduate of Detroit Lakes High School, who still serves as a substitute teacher. “Kids will complain about being in school and wish they didn’t have to be there. I share that, and you know, at my age, I still look forward to coming to school and all of the things I can learn and do. My husband asks how long I will continue. I tell him when it becomes a job, I will stop.”

Rislund is so much more than a ticket taker. One minute she might be organizing a tournament, the next she is directing traffic flow. You might also find her in the concession stand or at a table helping a student with homework while they are waiting for their match to begin.

Making an impact, whether great or small, remains her mission. She has done so for decades and is being recognized for not only her trailblazing efforts but also for her unending commitment to serve. Rislund will be inducted into the Minnesota State High School League’s Hall of Fame Class of 2024 on April 14 at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel. In the class of 12 inductees, she is being recognized in the Administrators Category.

Rislund’s impact as a pioneer and administrative leader traces to the roots of Title IX, the federal legislation enacted in 1972 that, in part, created a pathway for girls and women to participate in high school and college athletics, respectively.

Prior to Title IX, however, she is credited with the creation of the Fargo North (ND) High School Girls Track and Field team while she was a student at Moorhead State University. In addition to being a student-athlete at Moorhead State, while there, she worked diligently on advancing athletic opportunities.

In 1968, Rislund returned to Minnesota to take a teaching position at Princeton where she would enjoy a 34-year career. She headed a group of five physical education instructors, which included Milaca, Foley, Elk River and Cambridge, that united to create a conference in which girls could participate in volleyball, basketball and track and field.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with progressive groups of females, all united in an effort to create opportunities for girls,” Rislund said. “WE may have played only five or six games, they we got to play, and the kids had fun.”

Rislund says it was a humbling beginning. With schools having little resources budgeted for girls athletics, participating schools had to be creative with making uniforms for their contests. It was common on game days that pinnies with numbers created by masking tape or a marker were worn over gym uniforms had to suffice.

“I look at how can I make things better for kids and make them successful,” she said. “Not every kid is going to be an athlete and not every kid is going to be the best at everything, but they get the joy of competition, and they have success at whatever level it is.”

Coaching paved a trail to becoming Princeton’s Activities Director, a role she relished until her retirement in 2002. During her service, she was the chair of the Rum River Conference, chair of the Region 7AA Committee and was one of the founding members of the “Women in Sports Leadership” group with the League. With the League, she served on the Representative Assembly and has been a longtime official. In 2022, she was inducted into the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrator Association’s Hall of Fame.

“When I became an AD, it was the best job that I ever had because I saw an opportunity to promote girls sports,” Rislund said. “We still did a great job of maintaining the strength of the boys’ programs, but the girls had been shortchanged for so long. We had the collective question: How can we make things better, whether it was academics, athletics or the fine arts.”

Rislund says it is rewarding to know she helped in making a difference.

“Every once in a while, you run into a student-athlete that you’ve had before,” she said. “They say, thank you for what you’ve done for me. They are always gracious about it. It makes you feel warm inside because you did something that made them better as a person.”

Retirement was a label that didn’t stick long.

Rislund, still filled with plenty of energy and a zest for guiding and nurturing students, remains a long-term substitute at Lake Park High School. She enjoys the daily interaction with students and the opportunity to see her grandsons on a daily basis. She greets students as they arrive for school and a cheerful “Good morning.” After a breakfast in the school’s cafeteria, she reminds them to have a great day of learning. She says both greetings help perk up the students for a day of learning.

On induction day, Rislund is thrilled to be in the same Hall of Fame class as Hutchinson’s Lindsay Whalen.

“Lindsay is the epitome of what girls sports is and she has always been a leader that gives back,” Rislund said. “I look for her in the future to be giving back to anything that involves youth sports. Girls look up to Lindsay and what she has done. She is the poster person for the State of Minnesota in the field of female athletics. I was a small part of that; it makes you smile to see the success of students in this state going on to great things."

Rita Rislund Action shot

Next Article

Wrestling State Tournament: 2024 Advance Release