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Willmar notebook: A field blooms in ‘Gopher Prairie’

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Sauk Centre’s O’Gara Field on Friday, early in warm-ups of the Section 4A championship game between Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity.

Sinclair Lewis, who graduated from Sauk Centre High School in 1902, makes clear in the introduction to his 1920 bestseller that Gopher Prairie is “the continuation of Main Streets everywhere,’’ though his hometown, naturally, took the biting satire of its social pettiness and cultural shortcomings most to heart.

In the end, pride in their Pulitzer Prize-winning native son won out. U.S. Highway 71 through town is indeed Main Street and the school team is the Mainstreeters.

Sinclair’s fictional town “of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves” was a can-do village then and today.

Sauk Centre is rare in this state among rural towns, without a college, with a turf field. This was the first full season. The school even hosted a section championship football game.

Activities director Rick Fischer is in his 18th year at Sauk Centre. He said the indoor facilities were just fine but the outdoor fields and courts had crumbled.

The dirt track, an old 440-yard oval, hadn’t hosted a meet since the 1980s.

Fischer, along with the head custodian and superintendent started visiting other schools three years ago. They cherry-picked the best ideas.

“When turf was brought up, I felt it was a dream, but when I looked into the cost vs. cost of maintenance over a 12-15 year period, turf started to look like a better plan,” Fischer told the Tribune in an email.

So how to pay?

It did not go to the voters, Fischer said. He doubts it would have passed. Capital expense money was used over several years while continuing to provide normal upkeep of facilities.

“Community support was huge,” he said. “Many businesses and individuals stepped up and helped. There were many fundraisers through the sports boosters, but many people helped.”

He put the community support at almost $100,000.

Besides O’Gara Field and a new track, the baseball field was re-sodded and softball field reshaped with new fencing. Both venues got new scoreboards, bleachers and batting cage and the tennis courts were resurfaced.

O’Gara Field, which is a natural bowl, behind the school on the east edge of town, is a favorite of P.E. classes, even into December last year. “Every sport used the track or field sometime for practice,” Fischer said.

Surely, Carol Kennicott would have approved of such community upgrades.

Dorsey resigns at Edina

Patrick Dorsey, an all-conference guard on the Willmar team that fell to Rocori in overtime at Williams Arena in the Class AA quarterfinals in 1988, resigned as Edina boys head basketball coach.

Dorsey left the top job on his own terms “ending on healthy and positive terms.” He coached the Hornets for nine years.

While he continues to teach P.E/Health at Edina, Dorsey is working on his administrative license and will be seeking a position as activities director or an assistant principal the next school year.

His best teams were 2008-09 (22-6) and 24-8 last season, when the Hornets finished third in Class AAAA beating Eden Prairie. Playing among the giants of Twin Cities basketball, including Lake Conference rival Hopkins, Dorsey posted a 147-114 record at Edina.

He was head coach four years at St. Cloud Tech and one year at Mound Westonka after starting his coaching years as an assistant at Albany. He’s a Northern State grad who played two years at Ridgewater College. Besides playing in two state tournaments for Mike Hanson, he was a starter on the Cardinal baseball team that won the state title in 1987 under Jon Horning.

He also has more time now to follow his son, Zach Benning, a senior at Hastings High School. Zach placed fifth individually in the Class AA cross country meet Saturday at Northfield and has verbally committed to Wisconsin.

Dorsey brought the Hornets out here every other year starting in 2006 and had a 7-1 record up against his alma mater.

7th grade standout

If there would have been a race of just seventh grade girls at the state cross country meet on Saturday, Willmar’s Serena Monson would have placed second of 24. Her 4k time of 15:17 placed her second among seven seventh graders in Class AA and better than all 14 seventh graders in Class A.

Mary Covert of Minneapolis Washburn finished in 14:48 and earned All-State honors by placing 24th. Monson placed 62nd and was the third finisher on the fifth-place Cardinal team.

Rare footrace feat

Twin sisters Bethany and Megan Hasz of Alexandria were certainly not a secret going into the Class AA 4k on Saturday at St. Olaf College — a year ago they had finished third and sixth, respectively.

But this year the sophomore pair surged to the front, running shoulder-to-shoulder at 2,500-meters heading into the final uphill loop.

Bethany pulled away in the woods to finish first in a blazing time of 13:53 with Megan 20 seconds back in second place at 14:13 and Jenna Truedson of Bemidji in third, a 1-2-3 finish for  Section 8AAA, which the Willmar girls team won.

On the fly

n Best matchups in the state football quarterfinals as far as nicknames: Floodwood Polar Bears vs. Ely Timberwolves (9-man), Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks vs. Braham Bombers (A), Holdingford Huskers vs. Hawley Nuggets (AA), Pierz Pioneers vs. Proctor Rails (AAA). Most unfortunate: Henry Sibley Warriors vs Brainerd Warriors (AAAAA).

n Emily Minnick, a full-time starter for the NDSU Bison (4-6 Summit League, 4-19) was 16 of 20 with 8 kills in a 3-1 loss at Vermillion to South Dakota, the conference leader. Minnick, a freshman, is third on the team in both kills and ace blocks.

n The Cardinal girls hockey team opens Friday vs. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Wadena-Deer Creek, at Long Prairie. Boys basketball starts practice on Monday.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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