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Blast from the past: Two Cardinal cheerleaders, 42 years, 1 friendship, countless memories

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Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar High School graduates Linda Hustoft Hinz, left, and Nancy Kamholz French perform the school song Thursday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. The duo graduated in 1977 and were on the cheerleading squad together. 2 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Nancy Kamholz French, left, holds a sign she made showing the significance of performing a cheer together on Jan. 10, 2019, while Linda Hustoft Hinz holds her old cheerleading uniform and yearbook. The 1977 Willmar High graduates reunited Thursday at Hodapp Field.3 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Linda Hustoft Hinz points to a cheerleading photo of her and Nancy Kamholz French in her 1977 Willmar High School yearbook.4 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Nancy Kamholz French, left, holds the letter Linda Hustoft Hinz gave her years ago with their pact to reunite and perform a cheer at Hodapp Field in Willmar. The duo fulfilled their goal Thursday. 5 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Nancy Kamholz French, front, and Linda Hustoft Hinz perform Thursday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. The duo graduated from Willmar in 1977 and were both cheerleaders. They agreed to reunite and perform a cheer on Jan. 10.6 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Linda Hustoft Hinz, left, and Nancy Kamholz French jump while performing the official Willmar High School song Thursday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. The duo graduated from Willmar in 1977 and were both cheerleaders in school.7 / 8
Erica Dischino / Tribune Nancy Kamholz French holds Willmar Cardinals basketball memorabilia she kept from her cheerleading days. 8 / 8

WILLMAR — It was 1977. Linda Hustoft Hinz and Nancy Kamholz French were seniors at Willmar High School and on the cheerleading squad together when Hinz decided to make a pact: On Jan. 10, 2036, when they were both 77 years old, they would reunite in Willmar and perform a cheer together.

As it turned out, they decided not to wait that long.

"I thought we'd be too old," Hinz said.

They fulfilled their teenage pact this week instead, meeting outside their former high school Thursday and demonstrating that when it comes to the official school song and cheer, they still have what it takes.

"I'm not doing any jumps," French declared.

But the two remembered all the right moves. And even in a January-level wind chill, they performed enthusiastically and in unison.

There were "just a few words" to the school song that she didn't remember, French said afterward.

The occasion had a symmetry to it.

"We were born in '59 and we're both 59 years old," French explained.

Four decades have gone by since their Willmar Cardinals cheerleading days. Hinz now lives in Richfield and French has moved far away to Fresno, California. But they hold fond memories of their Willmar Cardinals cheerleading days.

Hinz still has her red and white letter jacket, and it still more or less fits. She kept her cheerleading uniform too.

As the two reminisced over school yearbook photos, they recalled pep fests, rallies and cheerleading camps. One memory led to another.

"It was all just really fun," Hinz said.

For the occasion, French brought along the letter that started it all — a note handwritten by Hinz and tucked behind the class portrait she gave to French for Christmas their senior year.

In it, she wrote about their friendship and the future and proposed a reunion that at the time seemed a long way off. The date, Jan. 10, marked the start of their friendship over a meal at Jake's Pizza in downtown Willmar. The place, Hodapp Field, was where they and the rest of the Cardinals cheerleading squad led the cheers at home football games.

There's some debate over how many years it took French to finally discover the letter behind her classmate's framed picture. But finally, there they were outside their old high school, now Kennedy Elementary School, and marveling at both how much and how little things had changed.

"This is almost surreal to me," Hinz said.

The two planned to round out their reunion with visits to some classmates, dinner at Jake's Pizza and a home basketball game.

They said they're glad they didn't wait another 19 years to fulfill their pact.

"We aren't guaranteed 2036," French said. "Now is what we have."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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