Willmar Notebook: My father, a coach

There are special nights in a young man's athletic life. I would think for many Willmar Cardinals, last Friday night at Brainerd was one of those. The mental snapshots will remain on file for the 50th class reunion, and beyond. Especially so, for...

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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Max (17) and father Doug Doering; Michael (7) and Ken Heitzman and Austin (88) and Steve Grove. All three dads are former college players and Cardinal assistant coaches; all three varsity players started out as sideline ball boys in third grade.

 There are special nights in a young man’s athletic life. I would think for many Willmar Cardinals, last Friday night at Brainerd was one of those. The mental snapshots will remain on file for the 50th class reunion, and beyond. Especially so, for three boys who shared the evening with their fathers along the visitor sideline at the Adamson Field bowl. “Yes, it was quite a game in Brainerd,” said running backs’ coach Doug Doering, whose son Max, a junior receiver, scored the go-ahead touchdown. “That was the first time Max entered the game. We were down 20-19, Auggie (Hahn) threw a perfect pass and Max caught it and sprinted down the sideline for the touchdown. It was a big play at a critical time’ Brainerd had momentum and that play got it back to us.” With the 39-20 win, Doug and Max now have this additionally in common. Both played on a Cardinals football team that beat Ron Stolskicoached teams - by double digits. As Doug recalls that 1988 game at Brainerd: “Tom Hagert ran the opening kickoff back for a TD, but we had a penalty and the ball was placed on our 46. On the very next play (the first play of the game), I ran 54 yards for a TD down the same sideline that Max did on Friday night. Those two plays were each back breakers and the game was basicallyover at that point. Our subs ([in ’88) played the entire second half.” Willmar won 41-20.  The Cardinals went to the state playoffs for the second year in a row, losing to Burnsville at Hodapp. I remember Hagert, who had moved to Willmar from Raymond before his junior year and would go on to play for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, was to broken hearted to comment after that state quarterfi nal loss.  Doug rushed for 1,382 yards that fall breaking Pete Stahnke’s record set in 1982. That was the year the Cards went 8-1, tying Elk River for the CLC title, though it was the Elks who advanced to the playoffs based on their head-tohead victory at Hodapp.The most memorable game of that campaign was the 31-13 upset of conference favorite St. Cloud Tech.  Doering went on to Willmar Community College where he averaged a record-setting 185 yards per game rushing; he was primarily a blocking back at St. Cloud State.  Steve Grove played football at Grand Forks Red River and then at Concordia College, where oldest son Alex is a sophomore backup quarterback. Steve has been on the coaching staff since 1997, which works out to a 2-13 mark vs. the Warriors. Austin, a senior, is a 6-foot-5 wide receiver with team-high eight catches.  I emailed Steve, a social studies teacher, for his view of the Brainerd trip.  “It was a great victory for these seniors,” he said. “Austin and I did not talk much about the game leading up to it. The game was a real roller coaster ride. An early lead, and then becoming really concerned when they scored the two touchdowns in the third quarter to take the lead, and then getting the lead back.  “The coaches on the sideline did a great job staying positive with kids, and the kids did not lose their composure. Besides coming away with the win, the best thing about the night was the kids did not quit after they lost the lead. Hopefully, that type of experience can be drawn upon if needed later on in the season.”  Ken Heitzman was head coach in 2000 when the Cardinals won 14-7, up in Brainerd, and went on to tie the Warriors for fi rst in the CLC. He’s the offensive line coach now. The linemen helped clear the way for 347 rushing yards, superb any night but against Brainerd? Ken grew up in Sartell, which makes Friday’s game even a little more special. He played his college ball at UM-Morris.  Son Michael has piled up 356 yards through two Fridays. He’d like to yank that school rushing record away from his backfi eld coach.  Responds Doug Doering: “That would be awesome if Michael broke my record. It would be so timely. Michael’s uncle, Mike Prunty, was my running back coach in 1988.” 

Ganging up on Brainerd

  The Cardinals varsity team actually beat Brainerd decisively twice in football in fi ve days. Coach Jeff Winter’s boys soccer team drilled the Warriors 7-2 Tuesday here. That’s the first time Willmar has whipped Brainerd in the same season in the world’s two brands of football.  The volleyball team also beat Brainerd on the Warriors’ own court 3-1 to go to 4-0 in CLC matches. Yes, the girls soccer team was crushed 10-0 at Brainerd, but in their defense - there are five varsity sports for girls, plus danceline, in the fall (compared to four in winter) and with small classes (under 300) in the top three grades the athletic resources get spread pretty thin.

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