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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski, left, Minnesota’s winningest football coach, greets assistant coach Jeff Ramey, a 1982 Willmar graduate, prior to the Class AAAAA kickoff at the 179th and final Prep Bowl championship game in the doomed Metrodome. Jeff’s father Deryl, the Cardinals’ head coach from 1978-1996, was upstairs above the press box helping make calls.

Willmar notebook: Early demise for a dependable Dome

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Standing on the floor of the Metrodome on Saturday afternoon, all looked well with the Big Top early in its fourth decade.

The new roof was a bright white with clear panels allowing daylight to pour through. Photographers are quick to notice the difference, especially from 32 years ago when Minnesota professional sports moved indoors.

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The seats, over 60,000 of them, form a steep blue hill around the field. The great stadium is tidy, sound of structure and proud, unaware of its fate. The temperature seems perfect for spectators, though warm for the players.

Already, the wrecking crew is staging in the parking lot. With the Prep Bowl concluded, only the Vikings’ season (ending Dec. 29 against Detroit) holds up demolition.

It seems a shame to destroy the Dome. It may have shortcomings, but boy, what a home it’s been for high school football (and soccer) playoffs. Sure, snow did collapse the roof in 2010, but what a bargain when built for $55 million.

On a frigid night in 1974, Bird Island-Lake Lillian lost to Battle Lake 34-26 in two overtimes at old Hodapp Field (now a soccer field). It was a terrific game but it took until the next day for spectators to thaw out. It was even colder in 1978 when Alden-Conger defeated the Panthers at the new Hodapp Field for the Class C championship (BI-LL would go on to win the next two state titles).

Up at Brainerd, head coach Ron Stolski was starting to lobby for a better way to select teams for the state tournaments, something better than conference champions facing off. Perhaps, if every school dropped its ninth regular-season game, all teams could go into the postseason.

And along came the Dome in 1982. Suddenly, all five championships could be determined in one location on the same day, under a roof, without interference of snow, wind or frost.

It’s storybook that Stolski’s Warriors played in the last prep football game early Saturday evening. The executive director of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association has coached for 53 years, but this was his first championship game in nine state tourney appearances while accumulating a state-record 354 victories. Fittingly, Owatonna was the adversary. The Huskies appeared in the first Dome extravaganza in 1982 losing to Stillwater 34-27. They were runners-up their only two other appearances, including 2012. Not to be denied, they were too much for the CLC North champions, winning 24-0.

Brainerd dropped down to Class AAAAA after spending one year in the new Class AAAAAA, a division for the largest of the largest. In an interview with Star Tribune reporter Jim Paulsen, Stolski noted that Brainerd High School has a “very large number of students on free and reduced lunches” while agreeing Class AAAAA was a better fit.

Willmar High football can make the same case to get out of Class AAAAA, where it has been outnumbered and overmatched, and down into Class AAAA.

On the fly

n The New London-Spicer Wildcats girls basketball team opens tonight on the home court facing Montevideo, a former foe in the West Central. The Wildcats play six non-conference games before playing Wright County rival Annandale on Jan. 7. NLS guard Taylor Thunstedt, who sat out the volleyball season as a knee healed from a summer injury, goes into her senior season with 1,969 points. 

n Adam Fagerstrom played for UW-Stout at the USA Rugby 7s Tournament which finished runners-up after going 3-0 in pool play. Preston Peterson, a freshman cadet at the Air Force Academy, also played rugby and is playing Falcons’ club hockey, too.

n Willmar gymnastics opens at home today against Melrose, the Class A runner-up to New Prague. The Cardinals don’t expect to have Haley Mottinger (sixth on state vault) who has had back problems coming off an appendectomy. Stephanie Thompson (a 2012 state entry), Hillary Weiler, Alexis Miley, Madison Lindblad and Sam Goeser all return with newcomers Kendall Hein and Brooke Graves, off the Willmar Wings, are sure to help. Morgan Hamstad is poised to contribute on vault. Captains for this season are Weiler and Morgan Stoeberl, both seniors. The Dutchmen lineup includes Jailyn Brinkman (fifth state all-around) and freshman Mady Brinkman (fifth bars).

n Also tonight in Willmar, the girls hockey team (2-5) will host the River Lakes Stars (3-2). Both squads have won two straight. The Cardinals’ boys basketball team (0-1) marks its home debut against CLC foe St. Cloud Tech, which is 1-1 after the Hopkins Thanksgiving Invite, losing to the Royals and beating Robbinsdale Cooper.

n Recent Ridgewater College wrestler Klinton Van Heuveln of Pennock (KMS) is on the Jamestown Jimmies wrestling roster. He also ran cross country placing 35th (fifth on the team) at the North Star/Midlands NAIA regional meet in Lawrence, Kan., with an 8k time of 31:15.

n After two upsets, the St. Cloud State Huskies (12-1) are headed for the NCAA Division II football quarterfinals for only the second time (1989 was the other). Three former West Central Conference players are on the roster: Offensive lineman Matt Schmiesing, a 6-4, 327-pound junior, and Riley Kampsen, a 6-3, 230-pound sophomore defensive lineman, both from Paynesville, and linebacker Nathan Snider, a 6-2, 220-pound freshman out of Minnewaska. Kampsen has 13 tackles in 11 games. Next up: at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo., noon Saturday.

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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