In 2020, sports took a backseat to many over the events happening in news across the world. But while the focus may have been drawn to other places, we take a look back at what happened in the area’s local sports scene in 2020. The selections of each subject is based on the amount of views the Daily Journal’s website received for the stories.
The impact of COVID-19 stretched its way across the entire world and in everything that people do and sports was no exception. When the pandemic struck the United State in March it had a lasting impact on the sports world.
Nationally, professional basketball and hockey halted their seasons amid the pandemic, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled all sports for the remainder of the 2020 winter and spring seasons, including the very popular NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Major League Baseball would also halt its spring training and push its season opener to July 23. The shortened season brought a lot of excitement and relief for sports fans that were without popular professional sports to enjoy.
Locally, high school and college sports were shut down. While a few sports enjoyed a full winter season with playoffs and a state tournament, others like girls’ and boys’ basketball saw them cut short. Area girls’ basketball team Pelican Rapids and Henning were in the midst of playing at the state tournament when the call for sports to stop happened. In boys’ basketball, the defending Class A state champion Henning Hornets won Section 6A and were making a return to state, while the Fergus Falls Otters hoped to punch their ticket to the state Class AA tournament. Neither would have the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis to play in the culmination of the season.
With several state restrictions, spring sports for 2020 were canceled.
Things began to loosen in the summer as youth athletics began to operate again. Baseball, softball, summer hockey and other sports operated but with changes to crowds and different regulations. This brought hope for the 2020 fall season.
In a move by the Minnesota State High School League, fall sports would get underway but without state playoffs and tournaments. Football and volleyball would also be moved to the spring, creating a fourth season. The teams that began the fall season would play out their regular seasons and playoffs as COVID rates stayed relatively low.
In a twist, the MSHSL voted to move high school football and volleyball back into the fall season in late September. A strong push from parents and high school officials helped bring the sports back into the fall fold.
Both football and volleyball would play shortened seasons. While a few games were postponed or rescheduled due to COVID-19, a small number of area teams were impacted by the virus. It seemed that both sports would finish their seasons with postseason play.
But once again, COVID struck the sports hard as some area football teams opted to not play the postseason. Before either sport could completely wrap up its play, sports were again put on hold as the numbers of COVID cases rose in the state. On Dec. 16, Gov. Tim Walz announced that sports in the state would be able to resume Jan. 4, 2021.
2. Pelican Rapids girls’ basketball beats FF
In one of the most anticipated matchups in Section 8AA, the Fergus Falls and Pelican Rapids girls’ basketball teams took the court at Concordia College in Moorhead for the section championship.
The game would come down to the wire as with 5.6 seconds left to play, senior guard Maddie Guler navigated the court and banked in the game-winning shot to send the Vikings to the Class AA state tournament with a 43-41 victory.
“I just knew someone had to take it, the ball was in my hands so I put it up there and was like ‘This one is going in,’ I had a feeling,” Guler said after the game. “We really came out strong and we worked hard, we knew we had to play with strong intensity.”
The Vikings would go on to the state tournament and fall to Waseca 38-22 in the opening round, but would win a consolation game against Concordia Academy 59-45. Due to the pandemic, the consolation championship game was canceled and the Vikings finished the season with a 30-1 record.
3. WISSOTA 100 announces cancellation
The coronavirus continued to impact sports into the summer as I-94 Sure Step Speedway in Fergus Falls and WISSOTA announced the cancellation of the WISSOTA 100 in 2020.
While the race track continued to host local races throughout the summer months after restrictions were eased back, the racing event which saw hundreds of race fans and drivers travel to the area was stalled.
“Our preparedness plan for the virus was extensive and provided many safety measures that followed the current state regulations,” stated Carson Gramm, WISSOTA executive director. “We developed our safety plan with strict precautions because the event needs to have more people than currently allowed to sustain the purse for the drivers. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain the approval needed for the event based on the number of people needed for the purse.”
According to the release at the time, WISSOTA was planning on having the 2021 WISSOTA 100 at I-94 Sure Step Speedway.
4. Rosses step down from coaching
Legendary Underwood coaches Diane Ross and Chuck Ross both stepped away from coaching positions after their 2019 seasons.
Diane, who was inducted into the Minnesota State Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018, left the sport with an overall coaching record of 706-302. She began coaching the Rockets in 1997 amassing a 497-200 record including 12 Little Eight Conference titles, 10 subsection championships and seven section titles.
Chuck began as head coach for the Rockets in 1998 and compiled a 142-94 record including three conference championships, two subdistrict championships and seven section titles leading to state playoff games. In 2019, Chuck led the Rockets to their first 11-man state playoff.
5. FF BMX to move to Delagoon
With a pandemic putting things on hold, Fergus Falls BMX moved their course to Delagoon Park in 2020.
After their lease ran out at I-94 Speedway, the group decided to create a new track at Delagoon.
“They decided that they needed the area and so we needed to find a new home,” I-94 BMX board treasurer, Cassie Dillon said. “Between our board members and asking around — connections — the city said they had a possible place for us to move to.”
The Fergus Falls City Council approved the move at an April meeting.
6. On the mat: Area wrestlers compete at state
In one of the few state tournaments that were completed in 2020, several area wrestlers hit the mat for the annual MSHSL State Wrestling individual meet at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in February.
Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Otter Tail Central and West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville were all represented at the individual tournament. The top finisher would be WCA/A/AA’s Jordan Lohse as he finished as runner-up in Class A at 152 pounds. Fergus Falls wrestler Dustin Portales took third in Class AA at 285 pounds, while OTC’s Cian Buehler (285 pounds) and Zane Swanson (195 pounds) finished third and fourth at the tournament.
7. Otter boys’ basketball advances to section championship game
The Fergus Falls boys’ basketball team found success during the 2019-20 season that culminated with a trip to the Section 8AA title game.
After finishing the regular season as Central Lakes Conference champions, the Otters were favored to make a run for the Class AA state playoffs. Fergus Falls would cruise past Menahga () and Warroad() on the way to a matchup with Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Fergus Falls would bury 3-pointers left and right and hold a 30-point lead at one point as they handed the Rebels a 75-55 loss.
The Otters would then prepare to travel to Concordia College to take on the Perham Yellowjackets for the section title. The day before the game was to be played, COVID-19 restrictions canceled all sports and forced the closure of high schools around the state.
8. Kerr’s trophy buck
Jeff Kerr, local hunter, put his name in the record books in 2020 as Boone and Crockett Club recognized his record-breaking whitetail buck.
Although the hunt took place in November of 2019, Kerr knew he had something for the Boone and Crockett record book but club rules dictated the rack could only be scored after a 60-day period of drying time. Kerr took the head to Detroit Lakes for the official scoring. He found that his deer’s rack scored 172 6/8. Kerr bagged the buck at Maplewood State Park as part of a DNR special hunt.
9. Twins Community Fund to renovate Delagoon field
With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Twins Community Fund, Delagoon Park’s Field 5 was renovated into a fast-pitch softball field.
The renovations to the field will provide an exclusive fast-pitch softball field for area high school and summer teams.
10. Sports Spotlights
The Fergus Falls Daily Journal each school year highlights several student-athletes in our editions. In 2020, the importance of recognizing these athletes was crucial as high school sports were shut down in the spring.
The spotlights allowed community members to hear from local high school student-athletes and see a more personal side to them. Thanks to all the athletes past, present and future that have made these articles a must read.