Story No. 2 on the list of my 10 favorite John's Journal entries from 2018-19 is something I will never forget. As I wrote when this story was originally posted on October 27, "what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I've ever seen." It was a true testament to "team" and what that word really means.
WATERVILLE -- Spending time on the sideline at sporting events – and on the field of play after contests come to an end -- you see and hear different things. Some are fantastic, some are troubling. I witnessed something Saturday that was extremely inspirational and says a lot about what high school activities can mean to our kids and communities.
Before I go into details on what took place Saturday, we need some important perspective, because everything isn’t always peaches and cream at high school games. This fall I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach: 1) An adult, upset with the officials, yelled something so vile I won’t repeat it here; 2) In the final seconds of a soccer game, two opposing players got tangled up in pursuit of the ball. As they went down to the turf, one of them wrapped the other in a headlock and pulled it tight, then punched the other kid in the stomach. He got up as the final horn blew on his team’s victory, looked at the person he had just punched and waved "bye-bye.” It was despicable.
I don’t know how those things can be stopped, but what transpired Saturday afternoon after a football game was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The setting was the football field in Waterville, home of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers. They hosted the Spartans of St. Clair/Mankato Loyola in a Class 2A Section 2 semifinal playoff game.
Both teams came in with 8-1 records, but this was expected to be a tough lift for the Spartans. The kids from St. Clair and Mankato Loyola almost didn’t get to play football at all this season. Neither school had enough available boys to field a team, so they formed a cooperative team for the first time.
Had each school fielded a team, they both would have been assigned to Class 1A. But the coop system means the two schools had to use their combined enrollment, and that number bumped them up into Class 2A for the postseason. During the regular season, six of the Spartans’ eight opponents were 1A teams.
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown opened the season with a four-point loss to Redwood Valley and hasn’t been beaten since. Saturday’s result was a 35-13 victory over St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, moving the Buccaneers into next Friday’s section championship game against New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.
W-E-M is an impressive team. Grant McBroom ran for a touchdown and threw to Tanner Ranslow for two scores. The Buccaneers defense made things tough for the Spartans, but the visiting team had some highlights. The biggest came on the Spartans’ third possession, when senior Noah Schruin sprinted 97 yards for a touchdown to forge a 7-7 tie. That pushed Noah past 3,000 career yards.
And to think … he and his teammates almost didn’t have a season at all.
After the game ended at 4:08 p.m., the teams shook hands; players, coaches, managers, cheerleaders in a long, snaking line across the middle of the field. The coaches from St. Clair/Mankato Loyola congratulated the kids and coaches from W-E-M, saying, “Good luck,” “Keep winning, boys” and “Keep it going.”
The Spartans then walked slowly to the north end zone, where they kneeled as head coach Dustin Bosshart spoke to them. Before practice began in August, some of the now-teammates didn’t know each other. And here they were, at the end of the season, brothers, kneeling, some of them in tears and all of them emotional that the end had come.
Bosshart, who is the principal at St. Clair and represents the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals on the MSHSL board of directors, talked to the boys about togetherness, memories, pride and the future.
He thanked them for working so hard and giving everything they had to the team. He talked about the bonds they had formed not only with each other but with their coaches, who come from both schools.
“The coaches who coached you will be there for you for the rest of your lives,” Bosshart said.
“You will remember the lifetime memories you created,” he said as sniffles were heard. “You did it the right way.
“You are a great group and you will accomplish incredible things in your life. Spartan family for life, that’s what you guys are.”
Think about that. Spartans for life. For sports in which the schools don’t have cooperative teams, kids from St. Clair are Cyclones and Mankato Loyola teams are the Crusaders. But during football season, everyone is a Spartan.
With the coach’s remarks complete, the players broke it down for the final time. The boys stood, gathered in a tight bunch, raised their hands together in the middle and said, “One, two three! Brothers!”
Bosshart walked to his wife Cheryl and gave her a kiss. The players’ families and friends stood 20 or so yards away, waiting for the team’s private moment to end. And then another incredible thing happened: It didn’t end.
The players remained together, some hugging, some finding one or more of the coaches to say thank you and share an embrace. Coaches patted boys on the helmet, returned the thank you and told them they loved them. The boys then gathered together once more – not wanting the moment to end -- each of them kneeling, for a few private words. Helmets removed and heads bowed, they prayed.
And then, only then, did the boys begin reuniting with their families. A strapping teenager hugged his grandpa and wept on his shoulder. Moms, dads, friends offered congratulations and condolences on the end of a great season.
“We’ve talked about it all year,” Bosshart said quietly, standing in the end zone. “This is about more than football.”
Good job, Spartans. Well done.
--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, download “Preps Today with John Millea” on your favorite podcast app and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.