COLUMN: Bemidji’s coaches and players overcome heartbreak on and off the pitch to write a storybook End of tournament Section 8AA
Bemidji, who suffered a 48-year drought in state tournaments, knocked out the north and south seeds of Section 8AA to clinch a spot. While that alone is enough to write an intriguing story, he doesn’t even tell half of it.
The Lumberjacks beat Alexandria, a team that was the thorn in their side for two seasons. The Cardinals landed their only ticket to the State Tournament in 2019 by beating Bemidji 4-3. That day, Bemidji lost a 3-1 lead with three losses in the third set.
During the regular season, the Lumberjacks lost three times, including two to the Cardinals. Both times Bemidji lost a 3-1 lead. But when it mattered most this year, the Lumberjacks did something special. Not only did they take out a respected rival 5-2 and retaliate for a previous heartbreak, but they did it in a year like no other.
Bemidji’s tennis programs suffered the same COVID-19 hurdles as other high schools throughout the 2020-21 sporting seasons, but they did so without their cornerstone. Longtime head coach Mark Fodness, who retired last May, passed away suddenly on November 25, 2020.
Mark’s son Kyle faced the challenge of tackling an odd season as the boys and girls new head coach while picking up where his father left off. But before Wednesday, tasked with bringing down two state-level teams, he couldn’t stop thinking about what his father used to say.
“My dad was an amazing trainer,” Kyle said. “Throughout his life he used to say, ‘Play like you’re an underdog, even when you’re not. “You can’t build that philosophy in a year, so I think it stems from what he taught those kids. It doesn’t matter if you are seed number 1 or seed eighth. You go there. down and compete like an underdog. “
It hasn’t been the easiest year for Kyle, to say the least, but what the sport can do is allow you to step back and be proud of something. thing. While it didn’t strike him that Bemidji will have the chance to play for a state championship, Kyle is eager to let his team’s achievements come to fruition.
“It’s going to settle down a bit more, but it’s not about me,” Kyle said. “As cliché as it sounds, the lucky things this year have come from the boys. This team, this family, gave us a great time. But it’s not my favorite time of this year. Those moments are the commutes. by bus and be able to see these boys improve. “
During my short conversation with Kyle, it was clear to me that he valued being a mentor more than being a winner, which by all accounts is precisely how his father viewed the game as well. He respects the game and enjoys his competition, and that’s why the first thing he did was talk about the kind of programs Dave Ronning has built in Alexandria.
“To compete with a team that we have a world of respect for is a privilege,” said Kyle. “They are lucky to have these coaches and young men who represent their school and their community. From parents to players, they show class all the way. They have a group of young men who value the spirit. athletic and good character. “
I asked other coaches how they viewed their opponents in the past. Usually the answer is pretty standard – something like “Kudos to them for playing a good game”. But what I learned on Wednesday was how much these programs really think about each other.
I covered the matches between Bemidji and Alexandria in all sports. Since the two teams are often in the same section, the rivalry is sometimes more emotional compared to some of Alexandria’s other recurring opponents. But in men’s tennis, with the recent history of these teams, respect always comes first.
“We won and lost loved ones,” Kyle said. “We both have it, but we both handled it the right way.”
As Kyle read the names of each player receiving a first place medal, he reflected on who his guys were up against and what it meant to bring a sectional championship back to Bemidji.
“They knew they were playing for something bigger than them,” Kyle said. “You still play for your teammates, but playing for the guys who didn’t get a senior year last year and a coach who passed on his legacy is a great feeling. It’s the culmination of a great season with a great group of boys. “
Jared Rubado is a sports journalist and columnist for the Alexandria Echo Press.