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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 9/24/2012 7:05:30 PM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

One of the best things about high school sports is seeing a community get behind its team. Seeing a gym or stadium filled with the school colors, businesses supporting the local team in their storefront windows and at the games is the sign of a community that understands how the school and the community can benefit from each other. One of the communities that has grasped this concept wholeheartedly is Northfield.

With the Northfield Raiders football team sitting at 0-3 and Friday night’s opponent, the Chanhassen Storm, not much better at 1-2, there would be good reason for the Raiders faithful not to show up. After watching a few games in Memorial Stadium the past couple of years I had no doubt – even with the team struggling – that the place would be packed with maroon, black and gold. While it was not standing room only -- like when they were a state tournament type of team -- the stadium was still the place to be. The nearly filled home bleachers and the dozens of people hanging out around the concession stand the entire game made it very clear that win or lose, Northfield loves its football team.

Athletic director Tom Graupmann – who has been working in the school district for more than20 years - feels the community’s support goes beyond the athletic programs.

“I can’t say enough about the support that we get from the parents, from the businesses. There is great support,” said Graupmann. “The other thing about Northfield that just adds to the support of just education overall – athletics is one thing -- but for a small town we have two colleges, Saint Olaf and Carlton College. They are huge assets to our community in many ways. It also puts in people’s brains the importance of education.”

Without a running track around the field, the fans are right on top of the action and it gives Memorial Stadium an intimate feel. On the scoreboard side of the field the fence is covered in ivy-like vines, giving the stadium an old-school, Wrigley Field look. The home team didn’t get off to a very good start, however, as Chanhassen senior defensive lineman Jacob Carlson recovered an early fumble. The Storm took advantage with a nine-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ryan McGuire to tight end JJ Wall.

On their next possession McGuire connected for 45 yards to his favorite target, senior wide receiver Jared Lea. It set up a short touchdown run to put Northfield in a big hole right away. Although they were down early, the Raiders know they have a solid coaching staff that will not allow their team to pack it in.

“We’ve had a great leader who has been here nearly as long as I have been the A.D.,” said Graupmann. “(Head football coach) Bubba Sullivan has been able to retain a lot of coaches so we have had great longevity and we are not consistently changing up the system or changing up the staff and starting over. Having that system in place for a bunch of years has been a strong point of our program.”

The ability to keep consistent coaching staffs allows the community to embrace and, like Graupmann mentioned, trust the coaches. That allows the coaching staff to get to know the kids from a young age in youth programs all the way up to the varsity.

“Having consistency, especially if the people are quality people who care about kids and care about education and athletics, that is like hitting the jackpot,” said Graupmann, a former girls basketball coach.

Keeping that consistency in part is Graupmann’s job. How he supports his coaches and evaluates them is one of the keys. Graupmann always stays positive with his coaches and tries to take as much of the administrative work off of them and onto himself, so the coaches can spend more time coaching and developing relationships with the parents and kids. When evaluating the coaches from year to year, less of the evaluation is done based on wins and losses and more on the kids’ experiences.

“The way I gauge if a coach has done a good job,” said Graupmann, “is at the end of the year, the kids are basically like ‘I don’t want the season to end.’ It is not about the wins and losses; there are other ways to gauge success.”

Success in the first half Friday was keyed by a dominating performance by the Storm offensive line. Frank Ragnow, Ryan Souza, Kyle Rosendahl and Kai Guthrie anchored a line that allowed McGuire to have plenty of time to find Lea for a second time in the first half to open up a 21-point lead. McGuire and Lea would hook up a third time in the first half, this time in highlight-reel fashion. It was only a six-yard touchdown catch, but the pass was underthrown. Lea was able to reach over the defensive back, who still had his back to the ball, and although interfered with he grabbed the ball off the top of the defender’s numbers, pulled the ball over the defender’s head and into his body to complete his third touchdown catch of the half.

Although their team was behind 35-14 at the half, the Northfield fans are not the type to leave early. They are, however, likely to support local business and the school at the same time. They were holding a “Lace for the Cure” charity promotion to support cancer research, in part by bidding on packages from a number of local businesses. They also were buying popcorn from a local Boy Scout troop and just enjoying a beautiful fall night.

It is easy to see that the community takes a lot of pride in its school. They not only show it during the games, but other times as well. The town has an extremely organized all-sports booster club. A number of local businesses contribute financially and otherwise in multiple ways not only to the football program, but to other athletics and general school causes.

The Raiders would come back a little bit in the second half, but they were in too big of a hole and the Storm left Northfield with a 42-27 win. The loss dropped the Raiders to 0-4. There will be no Missota Conference championship for Raiders fans this season. Since Sullivan took over championships have been the norm, but watching the Raider fans all night there is no doubt – successful season or not -- they will be back for the next home game, and all the games that follow.



 


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