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.
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MONTEVIDEO -- When he was a little boy, Eric Johnson had his left foot amputated. Three months later he showed up for kindergarten eager to run and play with the other children. Today, he and doubles partner, Jesse Brace, compete in the Class A state tennis tournament in Minneapolis, representing the Montevideo Thunder Hawks. Eric, a senior, will be wearing an athletic prosthesis. His movements on the court are fluid and quick.
Rose Jackson, a sophomore at the high school, is one of eight Cardinals to qualify for the Class AA Track and Field Meet starting Friday. She will compete in four events: long jump, 100 and 200 dashes and 4x200 relay. In his 31 seasons as an assistant coach, Bob Bezdicek can't recall a Willmar athlete ever filling out their state track dance card to the max. Jackson is a medal contender in her three individual events. In the 100, just one time is better. "I'm just trying to do my best," she told me this week. "You're in the state.
WILLMAR -- Jordan Smith, a three-sport athlete and 2009 graduate of Willmar Senior High School, was selected Tuesday in the ninth round of the Major League Baseball's first-year player draft. Smith, who is 6 feet 4 inches and listed at 225 pounds, is playing the Cape Cod League with Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this summer after spending last summer playing with the home-town Willmar Stingers. He is the 278th pick overall. The 2011 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Player of the Year led St. Cloud State with a .382 batting average, seven home runs and 57 RBIs.
Andy Jacobson and Matt Gorans won weekend shortstops at Eagle Creek Golf Club and Little Crow Country Club, respectively, but Josh Hagstrom also had a pretty good weekend. Jacobson repeated at the Eagle Creek Early Bird on Sunday, firing off a three-under 105. Gorans, the 2009 Eagle Creek Match-Play club champion, won his first-ever 27-hole tournament on Saturday. It took six extra holes before Gorans defeated Hagstrom in a sudden-death playoff on Oaks No.
Luther Opjorden, 66, has returned to his athletic roots. At Milan High School, he had been a three-sport athlete, graduating in 1963. Opjorden was drafted and served four years in the army, including Vietnam in 1969-70 as a liaison officer to an infantry battalion. Approaching middle age, the extra pounds began to pile up when he stopped milking cows and took an office job. Thirteen years ago, he and his son took a ski trip to Colorado. The mountains were majestic, but his enjoyment was tempered by his lack of fitness. That's when he turned to running. It worked.
WILLMAR -- Fourteen-year-old Ben Burgett of Spicer led a record field at the Memorial Day/Law Day 5k Run/Walk on Saturday morning. The Community Christian School eighth grader paced a pack of over 250 runners and walkers from the Flags of Honors, around the Robbins Island Loop and along the puddled Foot Lake Trail to the highway bridge and back in ideal conditions. Burgett covered the route in 17:41, one second more than Andy Regnier's winning time a year ago. Regnier, 30, did not defend.
Cheney, Kansas, is a farm town in the wheat fields of southern Kansas. Around 1,700 people live there, not many more than live in Clara City. It's the hometown of Jerry Kill and he's proud of it. The Gophers new head coach, a boy off the farm, spoke affectionately of growing up there in the 1970s. Cheney is also the home town of Kathy Fleegel, the main office secretary at the Willmar Middle School. Fleegel took her lunch break last Thursday to attend the Gophers' tour stop at American Legion in Willmar.
The week started out, the last thing expected in Cardinal sports would be for the baseball team to sweep Rocori. At 1-10, Willmar was off to its worst start in history. Rocori may not be the same group of veterans that won the state title at Target Field last spring but this is still a program with five top-two finishes in the Central Lakes the past decade. Willmar last swept Rocori in 2000 when the Cardinals were enjoying some peak seasons. Still, the Cardinals surely had more ability than that their lousy record showed. The team just hasn't hit this season. Both wins, before Tuesday, t
For conservation officer Jim Steffen, the fishing opener hardly could have got off to a poorer start. A dozen discarded northern pike were discovered near a culvert entering Ringo Lake. "What a waste," said Steffen, an Alexandria native who joined the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 21 years ago. "There are anglers out there today that would love to be catching those fish." The 2- to 4-pound pike were dumped near the northeast public access parking lot. Steffen estimated the fish were 3 or 4 days old. "Why would anyone do that?" he said rhetorically.
A check of area lakes at noon on Sunday, revealed moderate activity and limited success. At County Park No. 1, Big Lake Kandiyohi, West park manager Bud Groen summed the opener up as "cold and miserable." "A lot of shivering fisher-people. There's been some fish; the walleyes are running small. A lot of people are already heading for home. There's white caps on the lake." Todd Anderson, manager at County Park No. 3, Diamond Lake reported: "Poor. Not many boats. When the drizzle turned into rain yesterday, the access completely cleared out.