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'Silver for soldiers' challenge seeks to benefit troops from the region

Gopher mascot "Goldy," left, shakes hands with BOLD football player Andrew Brooks before the start of last year's kickoff event to benefit troops serving overseas. BOLD is challenging YME in this year's "Silver for Soldiers'' competition. (Tribune file photo)

OLIVIA -- There's no place like home, especially when it comes wrapped in a package and reaches you in a faraway land.

"It's a real morale booster,'' said Sgt. Mark Morse, with the Minnesota National Guard in Olivia.

Morse received his packages while serving two deployments with local troops in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004-05 and 2009-10. The packages held everything from snacks to toothbrushes and local newspapers, all stuffed together by volunteers at the Renville County Veterans Service Office.

"It's always nice to get something from back home and to think that they're thinking of you,'' said Morse.

They still are, and in a big way.

"Silver for Soldiers'' is the theme for this year's Tim Orth Foundation kickoff to raise funds for the popular "care'' packages sent to area troops serving overseas.

This year's kickoff will be held when football rivals BOLD and Yellow Medicine East meet on the BOLD Warrior's home field Sept. 17 in Olivia.

There will be no missing the excitement. A Blackhawk Helicopter is returning as part of the day's activities, and halftime will feature a spectacular fireworks display.

Tristan Gale, U.S. skeleton racer famous for her performance in the 2002 Olympics, will emcee this year's event. Her husband is currently with the U.S. Marine Corps and serving in Iraq.

Organizers are promising an opening not unlike the start of the Olympics. The Patriot Guard will line the football field, and local troops will enter the field to an applause befitting heroes.

Professional mascots, including the Utah Jazz "Bear" and the Timberwolves "Crunch," as well as two Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders are among those committed to revving up the crowd.

And, there's no guessing what kind of hoopla will be taking place in the YME and BOLD school districts in the week preceding the gridiron match-up.

Just like last year's kickoff event between BOLD and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, the two schools will be competing to see who can raise the most silver to help with the costs of purchasing the goods and mailing the care packages from home.

Last year's first-ever kickoff event exceeded expectations, according to Bert Wasierski, Renville County veterans service officer. She said the two schools collected an estimated 28,000 items, which filled two jail cells at the Renville County Jail. The schools also raised $5,000 in donated funds and the proceeds from the pre-game meal.

BOLD emerged the victor by just 1,000 items, and took home the 'W' on the football field afterward as well.

This year, YME has already announced intentions of winning "big time.''

No matter which school prevails, the biggest winners will be the troops: All of the proceeds will be used to send care packages to local troops serving overseas from the two school districts.

Renville County was sending packages to 96 different troops at this time last year, according to Wasierski.

Although the local Guard troops have returned home, Renville County is still sending packages to 14 soldiers from the county serving overseas.

Bill Neubauer, president of the Tim Orth Foundation, said the BOLD and YME football teams have a longstanding rivalry, and he's confident the students in both will take up the cause in raising funds as part of the competition. Funds will be accepted right up to the halftime of the football game.

Along with helping the troops, the kickoff will also be dedicated to the memory of the soldiers from both school districts who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those wishing to donate funds can do so at the game, or beforehand at the high schools in either district, or the respective county veterans service offices in Renville and Yellow Medicine counties.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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