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John’s Journal: Team, Family, Brotherhood (And Sisterhood) At The Prep Bowl

High School Activities Are All About The Experiences And The Memories

Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2022 - 4:38 PM


Breanna Bernardson of Elk River kicked three extra points in the Class 5A state championship game, making history as the first female to score in a Prep Bowl game.


As happens after every game during the Prep Bowl state championship football series at U.S. Bank Stadium, coaches and players sit at an elevated table in front of the media in the same room the Vikings use for postgame de-briefings.

On Saturday, following a miracle finish that gave New London-Spicer a 27-26 win over Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Class 3A title game, DGF head coach Anthony Soderberg and senior Jordan Summers sat at that table.

This had been a stunning, heartbreaking loss for the Rebels and one of the most amazing finishes in any football game at any level. With four seconds left on the clock, New London-Spicer was 48 yards from the end zone. I was standing on the DGF sideline, where players and fans were all set to celebrate. Then came the miracle touchdown on a long pass and a lateral. As the Wildcats celebrated wildly, you could hear a pin drop on the DGF side of the field.

In the interview room, Soderberg talked about how grateful he was for the time he spent with the team. He looked at Jordan and said, “We got every second to be with kids like him and his teammates. I'm just so happy to be able to coach kids like this.

“The scoreboard is the scoreboard. But the experience of being with these kids, it's been great.”

As Anthony and Jordan answered questions, I heard some familiar words. These words had been said during many postgame interviews at the Prep Bowl, as well as at all the championship-level activities during the fall season.

Three words stood out to me, and I wrote them in my notebook in all caps: TEAM – FAMILY -- BROTHERHOOD. Those three words sum up what the experience of high school activities, at their best, can be. Time after time, game after game, coaches and athletes, winners and losers, expressed how much they appreciated each other and their shared experience.

“A lot of life lessons happened, and you know, there are much bigger things than this that these kids are going to be accomplishing or responsible for in their lifetime,” Soderberg said. “Sometimes you’ve got to learn to get up. Sometimes you're the winner and sometimes you're not. … These kids are so great to work with and it's been a blast.”

After Spring Grove lost to Mountain Iron-Buhl in the Nine-Man championship game, I talked with Spring Grove coach Kody Moore outside the Lions locker room. One of the leaders for the team is senior Hunter Holland, who suffered near-total loss of vision in one eye shortly before football practice began. (Story here: )

Moore told me, “The best part about football is the brotherhood. And when that happened to him, and he came back on the first day of practice, these guys just embraced him. Basically they acted like nothing ever changed. There’s just that tight brotherhood, that bond that football brings. I'm biased, but I just don't know that any other sport brings that brotherhood.”

It also can be a sisterhood, because females play (and officiate) football, too. History was made in the Class 5A Prep Bowl when Elk River senior Breanna Bernardson kicked three extra points in becoming the first female to score in 40 years of Prep Bowl games.

With senior Grant Stoltman doing the long snapping and senior Darioh Balisidya acting as the holder, Breanna was a perfect three-for-three as the Elks won their second title with a 29-26 win over Mankato West. She put three points on the board and her team won by, yes, three points.

Breanna was a captain and starting goalkeeper on the Elk River girls soccer team this fall. On the football field, she made 14 of 15 extra-point attempts for the undefeated Elks.

Breanna said, “I've gotten some weird looks at times and they're just kind of like, ‘Wait, hold on, is that a girl on the team?’ But the team is amazing. And the coaching staff? I couldn't do it without them.”

“Bre has been consistent," said head coach Steve Hamilton, a father of two daughters. "She's not going to miss. It's awesome that she's out here.”

This was Bre’s first season with the football team. As the Elks celebrated their championship on Saturday, Hamilton said to her, “Are you glad you did it?” Her smiling response: “This is amazing.”

“It's a credit to the team because they accept anybody whether they've been playing or not,” Hamilton said. “It doesn't matter who it is. They bring anybody on this team and you feel like a member of this team.”

That’s it. The Team. The Team is everything.

This also was a year in which two female officials worked games in the state football playoffs. Leah Berard of St. Paul was part of the crew for a Class 6A state quarterfinal and M.J. Wagenson of Pine Island was on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium for a Class 2A semifinal. Officials, of course, are team members, too.

One of the happiest people at the Prep Bowl was Paul Beuning, who coaches the defensive line at New London-Spicer. He, of course, was thrilled with the Wildcats’ improbable win, but he also knows how everyone from Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton feels. He was in the exact same spot 40 years ago.

Paul was a senior at Belgrade High School in 1982, the year of the very first Prep Bowl. Those games were played at the then-new Metrodome for the first time, with the previous decade of football playoff games held outdoors.

Paul was a star running back for Belgrade, leading them with more than 1,500 yards that fall. Belgrade was undefeated in the regular season and beat Battle Lake 16-0 and St. Paul Academy 20-12 in the Class C tournament before losing to Truman 16-14 at the Metrodome. Truman won on a 29-yard field goal, its first of the season, in the final minute. Another heartbreaker.

“The atmosphere is the same, the build-up, the practices, the hype, the camaraderie, the team, the community,” said Beuning, 57, when asked to compare 1982 with 2022. “What’s also similar are the kids working together and all the cliche things, but it's true. The memories that they're going to have are unbelievable.”

The team. The work. The teamwork. The memories.

--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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