Prep football: NLS, Litchfield set to honor fallen heroes

The first inaugural Minnesota Fallen Heroes Football Game is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

Wildcats senior wide receiver Brycen Christensen scores New London-Spicer's first touchdown of the 2022 season and celebrates with teammates Isaiah Klein (left) and Marshel Johnson (right) during a game against St. Cloud Cathedral on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, at New London-Spicer High School in New London.
Michael Lyne / West Central Tribune
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NEW LONDON — The New London-Spicer Wildcats will host the Litchfield Dragons for a highly touted East Central Conference matchup on Friday evening, but the game will come with much more meaning outside the outcome on the field.

Founded by the Ryane Clark Heroes Project in collaboration with the NLS Educational Foundation, history will be made with the inaugural Minnesota Fallen Heroes Football Game.

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Athletes from BBE, MACCRAY, Montevideo, Paynesville, Willmar and YME lead this year's squad.

Gold Star parents Rick and Tracy Clark, alongside Gold Star sister Aleah Clark Ague, created the MNFHFG to honor their son and brother, Ryane Clark.

Ryane was a 2007 graduate of New London-Spicer High School and a U.S. Army soldier killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010.

The Clark family's vision was to create an event where Minnesota Military Service members and emergency responders who made the ultimate sacrifice could be honored and to provide opportunities for their families to share their stories.


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Wildcats senior Gabe Rohman runs into the end zone to score a touchdown the opening quater of a Homecoming matchup against Holy Family Catholic High School in New London on Friday, September 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

"The people that have come into contact with the idea have been very supportive of it,;they think it's a cool idea," Rick said. "If everybody I've talked to shows up on Friday, there's not going to be enough room on that field."

Ten players from each team will give up their names during the game to play in honor of their selected local fallen hero.

"This community has been so great to us," Rick said. "It's just one way Tracy, Aleah and I can give back."

When the Clark family proposed the idea in the spring to NLS activities director Thayne Johnson and then NLS superintendent Bill Adams, it was a no-brainer to figure out the logistics to make this event become reality.

"Bill and I talked and we were like, 'This is a great opportunity that has never been done here in the state of Minnesota.' The hope is to set the bar and have other schools follow," Johnson said. "There's plenty of other schools that have salute to service games, but a game specifically to honor fallen heroes would be the first of its kind in Minnesota."

Rick and Tracy have served as the spearheads for the event in what will be a special night for many.

"I think it's going to be a really, really great night," Johnson said. "I'm excited to see it all come together."

NLS football coach Chad Gustafson recognizes how important this event is and it comes with much more significance for him as well.


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Wildcats junior Mason Delzer is greeted by cheerleaders during the starting lineup announcemnts of a Homecoming matchup against Holy Family Catholic High School in New London on Friday, September 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Gustafson, who retired from teaching after 34 years, had Ryane in his fifth-grade classroom.

"I have been teaching long enough to know Ryane and taught him, so that's very special to me," Gustafson said. "I also remember the day they brought him home, so it will be really special.

"I am super excited to be apart of this and can't wait for the kids to take football into a new meaning, where they maybe take for granted every time that they get to play under the Friday night lights. There are people that have given so much, so that we can have these liberties."

A tailgate for the Gold Star Families and Hero Families begins at 5 p.m. to kick off the night.

All 20 of the fallen heroes will be honored before the game starting at 6:30 p.m.

"Each bio is made to be a minute or less and are going to be read during the ceremony," Rick said. "Tracy and I say, 'To honor is to say their name, but to remember is to share their story.' That's what we're doing, is sharing stories."

Following the game Friday, there will be a Ryane Clark Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser at 11 a.m. Saturday.

All money raised from the MNFHFG will be given to the NLS Alumni Fund for scholarships to help support NLS students.


Gustafson and company decided that seniors will make up the 10 representatives for the Wildcats.

Two of the 10 players include wide receiver/defensive back Brycen Christensen and wide receiver/defensive back/kicker Gabe Rohman.

"It's a good thing that we're doing to remember the people that have fallen for our country," Christensen said. "It's definitely a great honor to honor one of the fallen heroes."

"We hope to put on a good show for the people and the families that come to the game," Rohman said.

Rounding out the list of players giving up their names to honor fallen heroes for the Wildcats are: Gavin Degner, Hunter Downey, Isaiah Halvorson, Reid Holmquist, Isaiah Klein, Kenny Schmiesing, Bennett Schultz and Carter Taatjes.

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Wildcat senior Luke Wosmek, at left, gets hyped up for the game with junior teammate Marshel Johnson during a Homecoming matchup against Holy Family Catholic High School in New London on Friday, September 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Honoring Fallen Heroes


- 5-6 p.m. - Gold Star Families and Hero Parents Tailgate
- 5-5:15 p.m. - Litchfield arrives via Police/Fire Department escort
- 6:25 p.m. - Introduction/Welcome
- 6:30 p.m. - Introductions of fallen heroes and Gold Star families
- 6:50 p.m. - NLS band performs
- 6:55 p.m. - A closing thank you
- 7 p.m. - Kickoff

NLS Wildcats

1. 05/23/2022 - Fire Fighter, Blomkest, Fire Chief Ryan Erickson
2. 10/04/2010 - Operation Enduring Freedom, NLS, Specialist Ryane Clark
3. 04/14/2007 - Operation Iraqi Freedom, Willmar, Sgt. Joshua A. Schmit
4. 06/29/2006 - Operation Iraqi Freedom, Willmar, Sgt. Kyle R. Miller
5. 01/03/1969 - South Vietnam, NLS, Specialist Four Waldon Jerome Swart
6. 09/06/1952 - North Korea, NLS, Sgt. Robert Alloys Beaudette
7. 01/01/1945 - World War II, NLS, PFC Arnold Bidwell
8. 04/18/1944 - World War II, NLS, Seaman 1st Class Rodney John Lewis
9. 01/10/1944 - World War II, NLS, Sgt. Robert E. Ihlang
10. 09/29/1918 - World War I, NLS, Cpl. Walter H. Henderson

Litchfield Dragons

1. 04/11/1971 - South Vietnam, Litchfield, PFC Joseph A. Schoolmeesters
2. 2/18/1968 - South Vietnam, Atwater, Specialist 4 Norman Harvey Clark
3. 10/22/1951 - North Korea, Grove City, Cpl. Wendell L. Larson
4. 11/25/1951 - North Korea, Grove City, Sgt. Eugene Kronbeck
5. 11/25/1951 - North Korea, Litchfeld, Sgt. Ralph F. Tacheny
6. 09/26/1951 - North Korea, Dassel, Sgt. Roger W. Gustafson
7. 07/27/1950 - South Korea, Litchfield, Pvt. Arvid J. Harris
8. 10/05/1951 - North Korea, Litchfield, Pvt. John R. Christle
9. 05/15/1918 - World War I, Litchfield, Pvt. Orville A. Nelsan
10. 06/23/1918 - World War I, Litchfield, Pvt. Donald C. Horton

More by Michael Lyne:
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Michael Lyne joined the West Central Tribune as a sports reporter in June 2022, following his graduation from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in journalism and a minor degree in Spanish studies.

You may reach Michael at, or by calling (320) 214-4345.
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