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Willmar alumni and students reviving traditional display of Cardinal Pride

Willmar instructor and student council adviser Travis Michelson, left, looks over a collection of WHS homecoming buttons dating back more than 50 years and collected by Lee Wierschem. Wierschem brought the idea of reviving the homecoming buttons to Michelson and student council members, and received a spirited endorsement. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny1 / 3
A sampling of the some of the buttons that make up Lee Wierschem's collection. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny2 / 3
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WILLMAR -- It's easy to find Cardinal Pride on display at Hoddap Field, but if you have an eye for it like Lee Wierschem, you can find it at rummage sales, auctions and a thrift shop or two.

A self-confessed packrat, Wierschem has made collecting Willmar homecoming buttons his latest passion. Now, it's to become everyone's passion.

For the first time since around 2000, Willmar High School will be again stamping out a commemorative homecoming button.

The $3 buttons go on sale Friday at the school and before the homecoming game at Hoddap Field.

No one is probably more excited about the return of this tradition than student council members. Adviser Travis Michelson brought Wierschem's suggestion to revive the long-standing tradition to the students and received a spirited endorsement.

"Homecoming is really a big deal,'' said Michelson, a 2003 graduate, while looking over nearly 50 years of tradition on display at Wierschem's home this week. The display of buttons and memorabilia is now in the high school lobby for all to see.

By sheer coincidence, Wierschem brought his idea of reviving the button tradition to Michelson just after the student council adviser happened to have looked through a stash of old homecoming buttons kept at the school.

"Bash the Braves,'' "Mangle Monte,'' "Clobber Cambridge," and "Go Big Red,'' shout buttons dating back to the days when cheerleaders wore beanies and saddle shoes, and football helmets lacked protective face guards.

Wierschem, a 1977 graduate, has been searching out these keepsakes for the past two years, even attending class reunions in search of buttons from earlier days. His collection is far from complete and he is hoping people will let him know about buttons they may be willing to donate or sell to the collection. He's also attempting to learn when the tradition of a homecoming button got its start locally.

By chance, this year's button features two clashing helmets, as did the 2000 button.

Wierschem said he's come to appreciate homecoming all the more as the years grow from his days as a Cardinal quarterback. Every look at the buttons brings back memories of the excitement that is so much a part of homecoming.

He said his biggest hope is that the revival of the buttons can add to the excitement on campus and give alumni reason to continue showing their Cardinal Pride as well.

Tom Cherveny

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

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