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John’s Journal: The Battle For The Paddle In Detroit Lakes

Pride Is Paramount When Lakers and Perham Meet

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2022 - 12:03 PM


Senior members of the Detroit Lakes football team celebrate with the (freshly broken) Paddle.

DETROIT LAKES -- It’s a good thing the traveling trophy that’s on the line when Detroit Lakes and Perham meet on the football field isn’t a Faberge egg or a collection of fine china.

The trophy is a wooden canoe paddle, and the matchup is aptly called the Battle for the Paddle. There are a number of terrific traveling football trophies in our state, and I have seen many postgame celebrations as players from the winning team raise the artifact high and holler their lungs out. Among my favorites, in no particular order, are the Battle Axe (Luverne and Pipestone), Babe’s Bell (Bemidji and Brainerd), Bay Bell (Minnetonka and Wayzata), Tractor Trophy (Northfield and Farmington), Little Brown Jug (Fairmont and Blue Earth) and Armistice Day Trophy (St. Charles and Chatfield).

The scene Friday night was routine … until it wasn’t. Since Perham had defeated the Lakers 30-27 last season (scoring the winning points on a 52-yard hook and ladder play with 13 seconds to play), the Paddle was in the hands of Perham activities director Erin Anderson as this year’s game wound down. There was no drama, with Detroit Lakes scoring on its first play from scrimmage – a 79-yard run by Ethan Carrier -- and winning 49-6.

As the players went through the traditional postgame handshake line, Anderson stood on the field with the Paddle, which bears logos of the two schools and scores from previous games. He handed the Paddle to the celebrating Lakers and offered one of them a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. That’s when things got beyond wild, because in the midst of their wild stompin’ hootin’ and hollerin’ and grabbin’ at the Paddle, the Lakers broke the thing into two pieces. No problem, because now they had TWO trophies to raise into the night sky.

“A lot of history goes into that paddle,” said Lakers junior Mason Carrier, who along with his senior brother Ethan will continue his football career at the University of Minnesota. “They got us last year and that did not feel good at all.”

The statistics were staggering. Ethan Carrier ran the ball nine times for 313 yards and three touchdowns, while Mason Carrier caught three passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. The brothers touched the ball a combined 16 times, resulting in 463 yards and five touchdowns.

The postgame celebration was a wonderful scene for the home folks, as was the entire day for me. It was my first time at a sporting event in Detroit Lakes, and there were many glorious moments and scenes …  

--I was given a tour of Detroit Lakes High School on Friday afternoon, guided by principal Josh Omang and activities director Rob Nielsen. I have known Rob for a long time and it was nice to meet Josh.

In 2018, voters in Detroit Lakes approved spending nearly $50 million on improvements to the school district, including a new fieldhouse at the high school. Lakeshirts is a local apparel company that donated $1 million toward school improvement projects that weren't covered by the bond referendum, and they received naming rights to what is now proudly known as Lakeshirts Fieldhouse. It’s as terrific space for events of all kinds, and rest of the school is equally great.

The new construction and remodeled original spaces have allowed the high school to employ an Academies model, which helps students who may not be headed for the college path to be prepared for employment after high school.  The Academies at Detroit Lakes focus on Business and Entrepreneurship, Health Sciences, Human Services, Information Technology and Production. Many local businesses are involved with the Academies as they seek to prepare future employees.

--Arriving at Mollberg Field, I was greeted by my friend Kim Bettcher. She’s a big booster of everything Detroit Lakes, she’s the marketing director at a local health and wellness center, a writer, podcaster and parent of athletes. I have known Kim for many years and I was not surprised one bit when she told me she had already paid for my pregame dinner (served by the D.L. booster club) of sloppy joe, chips, cookie and drink. We sat at a picnic table and got caught up.

--As the teams were warming up, Perham head coach Aron Velde told his players: “I love you.”

-- I enjoyed a pregame sideline chat with Jared Rubado. We first met when he was a senior at Brainerd High School, from which he graduated in 2014. He was interested in journalism back then and he’s a testament to quality journalism now. As sports editor of the Detroit Lakes Tribune, Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal, he provides wonderful coverage of all the teams and kids in the area. As someone who’s been in this game for 40 years, I absolutely love to see talented young reporters doing great things.

--Right before kickoff, the pre-recorded voice of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was heard on the stadium sound system. The 2008 Lakers grad welcomed everyone to Mollberg Field and wished them well. The pride the community has in Adam is displayed on a giant color photograph of him, wearing Vikings purple, that hangs on the back of the home bleachers.

--Entering the press box, I saw a who’s-who of old friends. Two of my favorite Perham people, Fred Sailer and Mike Peterson, were broadcasting the game on Perham station The Lakes 99.5. On Detroit Lakes’ KDLM radio, Zeke Fuhrman and Charlie Newland were calling the game. I had heard Zeke’s voice countless times in telephone interviews, and it was nice to finally meet him in person. After he had invited me for a radio interview months ago, we had finished recording and were chatting. He suggested I put the D.L.-Perham football game on my calendar and I’m mighty glad I did. The media people who do so much to cover and celebrate high school sports are selfless and special.

--The band. Oh, the band. Under the direction of Tim Siewert, the Lakers band played from a few steps beyond one end zone and did so throughout the game. Some of them were happy to join the postgame celebration … and no instruments were snapped into two pieces.

--The Detroit Lakes cheerleaders were in fine form, and just as happy as everyone else when the rain that had fallen before kickoff stayed away the rest of the evening. They chanted with gusto, “Laker NAY-SHUN!”

--To say the football game was a track meet would not be a stretch. Along with Ethan Carrier’s 79-yard game-opening run, the Lakers also scored on an 88-yard run by Mason Carrier and a 78-yard pass from Caden Strand to Mason, while Perham’s points came on an 85-yard run by Braylon Rach in the second quarter.

Speaking of track, the Carrier brothers were members, along with Cameron Marxen and Hunter Zempel, of the Lakers’ 4x100-meter relay team that placed eighth at last spring’s Class 2A state meet.

Offense is nothing without an offensive line, and the Lakers’ group of Henry Lee, Brayden Sjoblom, Ryan Brinkman, Brock Okeson, Connor Zamzo and Isaac Cariveau cleared a path all night.

--Steve Zamzo (Connor’s dad) is one of the assistant football coaches for the Lakers and has a strong background in the game, having played on state championship teams at Cambridge in 1986 and 1987. But statewide, he’s better-known as a gymnastics coach. Now retired from coaching the Lakers in that sport, he led them to multiple team and individual state titles and was the 2018 National Gymnastics Coach of the Year. It was fun chatting with Steve after the football game.

--The night’s result gave Detroit Lakes a 4-0 record while the Perham Yellowjackets fell to 2-2. The postgame speech to his team by Lakers head coach Reed Hefta included these words: “You guys worked so hard. You believed in your team. Let’s keep this going. Love each other.”

Hefta’s origin story is made clear by the first three digits in his cell phone number. It starts with 701, a North Dakota area code. His hometown of Falkirk is in the center of the state, but he grew up spending summer days at a family cabin outside of Detroit Lakes. “I’ve known Laker football since I was a little kid,” he said.

Reed’s mother, Mary Hefta, told me that Falkirk is a coal-mining town with a population of 18. Google told me that Falkirk is an unincorporated community and it could neither confirm nor deny the number of souls in town. The North Dakota tourism website says, “With an annual production of approximately 8 million tons of lignite coal, Falkirk provides fuel to generate low-cost electricity for 2/3 of rural Minnesota.”

--In Rubado’s well-written game preview, both second-year head coaches talked about the rivalry between the teams that are only 21 miles apart on U.S. Highway 10. They are young coaches who know that these experiences go beyond winning and losing. The kids who play for them are fortunate.

“Reed and I have a really healthy thing between us,” Velde said. “We were just texting (earlier in the week), and I love that we can be competitors for 48 minutes a year, but we can be 21 miles apart from each other and willing to help each other out. There are 364 days and 21 hours our teams aren’t playing each other. It’s nice to have a guy go through the same stuff you are, and it makes the rivalry game healthier too. We aren’t bad-mouthing (Detroit Lakes) all week. We want to show up and play our best because we respect them.”

Hefta said, “That team was better than us for a play last year. It was a time of adversity for our players. Adversity is something we welcome because we can learn from it. The ending to that game last year challenged our kids with adversity. It’s something that kids can’t have enough of sometimes. People can get uncomfortable when they have to fight through things like adversity and doubt. It’s fun to be able to use it as a learning tool. Only seven teams finish the season happy with a state championship, but the lessons learned in sports carry on through life.”

As the fans headed home and Mollberg Field grew silent, a few Detroit Lakes players, along with family and friends, remained on the field, savoring the moment and not wanting it to end.

The Paddle, now in two parts, would soon be repaired. It will be displayed at the high school for the next 12 months, a source of pride in a town filled with pride.

--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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