Leave it to the rookie on our Post Bulletin sport staff, the incomparable Isaac Trotter, to give us another grand idea. He came up with a list of his top-10 favorite stories that he authored in 2020, and turned that into a story.
So, now I’m going to copy him. And I’m also going to — as he did — include a couple of “news” stories I did. With the pandemic stripping us of sports through all of the spring and much of the summer, we were asked to occasionally leave our sports sandbox and crank out some news stories. I did and en route received two of the best assignments I’ve ever been given. Both certainly crack my “top 10” for 2020.
Without further ado, here’s my list:
MORE PAT RUFF STORIES:
1. Austin’s basketball rebirth
The last 10 years, southeastern Minnesota has become a melting pot of races in so many mid-sized towns. Nowhere has that been more true than Austin, and in no sports program has that been felt more than Packers boys basketball, with its influx of South Sudanese players.
The Sudanese migration to Austin started in about 2010, as they left their war-torn country to take jobs at Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors.
Three of Austin’s five varsity starters last season were from Sudan, and 10 of its 19 players overall.
It’s been a winning mix. Austin has gone 219-46 the last nine years with six state tournament trips. The Packers have fielded one star Sudanese player after another during that stretch, including current University of Minnesota starter Both Gach. But Packers coach Kris Fadness says the winning hasn’t just been limited to on the court when it comes to the Sudanese influence in Austin.
2. Woman remembers 6-month quarantine
This story, I’m proud to say, was about our direct neighbor in northeast Rochester, Maxine Thoreson.
Maxine grew up in northwestern Minnesota, in a farmhouse near Warren. One of her formative years, 1934, included having to deal with a frightening health scare in her community and more specifically her own house. It brought to mind what’s happening now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diphtheria — an often deadly disease at the time — was the problem then. One of Maxine’s sisters contracted it, and it meant the entire family had to quarantine for half a year. But Maxine doesn’t remember it as an awful time. After all, they were together.
3. Century freshman now winning frightening battle with COVID-19
The prognosis now looks good for Rochester Century freshman hockey player Sam Evenson. But a week ago, the Evenson’s were frightened to the core as their 15-year-old Sam was struck with a case of COVID-19 that nearly took him.
What had seemed like nothing turned into the family’s most harrowing week ever.
4. Ivy League comes calling for JM’s Lap Nguyen
The Rochester John Marshall hallways are so different this year compared to the previous four. That’s only partly due to them being empty, the pandemic having forced all high school learning to be done online and from home.
But those hallways are also missing the school’s little big man, Lap Nguyen. Nguyen, the school’s former class president, has taken his tour de force influence to Harvard. This after being raised by parents who showed up in Rochester 12 years ago from Vietnam, speaking no English.
5. Hicks’ journey as rich as it has been difficult
Jordan Hicks goes down as one of Rochester’s all-time best boys basketball players. He also goes down as one of the few to then play at the professional level, that career ongoing in Europe.
But Hicks has so much more to tell than just basketball stories. His life has not been easy, a journey filled with heartache, joy and searching as he was raised by a single mom who died of cancer just as he was graduating from college. Hick’s most recent journey took him to Africa, to lay to rest a father he never really knew.
6. ‘He’s a step ahead of everyone else’: Caledonia’s Eli King the next big thing in southern Minnesota
My hunch was that Caledonia’s Eli King might be an even better prospect than his two olders brothers, Owen and Noah. And that’s saying something, with those big brothers both former All-State basketball and football players for the Warriors.
Now, though, it looks like I had it right. Eli, a 6-feet-3 athletic wonder, is being recruited by big-time Division I schools in basketball and football and is among the state’s handful of top prospects in both. He might also be the family’s top ping-pong player, though Noah doesn’t want to concede that just yet.
7. ‘The carry’ provides lifelong memory for Pine Island player
The will has always been there for Pine Island football player Alex Bestgen. But the means to carry it out had been held up for the special-education student.
But this season, his team made things happen for him. Bestgen was granted a carry at halfback in a game with Red Wing. It turned into a 10-yard gain around right end and a thrill of a lifetime for all associated with it.
8. Rochester cyclists are in it for the long haul
Never one to dodge a challenge, but instead go looking for one, Mark Kieffer is at it again. So are a pack of his new-found buddies who have taken to long-distance bicycling as much as he has.
In the last year, that long-distance approach has included Kieffer — a former Rochester Mayo boys basketball coach — biking across Minnesota, getting it done through the night and in a single stretch.
9. Reker has come all the way back following wicked accident
There aren’t too many tougher guys out there than former Kasson-Mantorville High School principal Jerry Reker, who’s also a former wrestling and football coach , and a current wrestling official.
Reker, who’s just a few years shy of turning 70, was forced to show off all of that toughness two falls ago when he slipped off his roof, falling 12 feet onto his deck. It was literally a crushing blow. But Reker being Reker, he met his multiple injuries head on, his goal to referee wrestling again. Mission accomplished.
10. ‘As nice a guy as I’ve ever known,’ Jerry Demaray, has died
There were plenty of lives lost in Rochester in the last year. One of the most difficult to take was that of Jerry Demaray, a former longtime Rochester Mayo girls and boys volunteer assistant tennis coach, doing that under his son, Jeff Demaray.
Above all else, Jerry will be remembered for his generosity and faith. Former Mayo player Eric Newman put his memory of Jerry this way: “I just really appreciated what he stood for. He was as nice a guy as I’ve ever known.”