I love to drive around Minnesota. That is no secret. Getting out, enjoying the countryside and spending time with high school students and their coaches is a great joy. And there’s a big bonus to this sort of travel: You never know what you’re going to see.
I journeyed to the Iron Range and visited Coleraine on Tuesday, where the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin football team is in its second week of practice as it prepares for next week’s Zero Week opener. I arrived before the day’s workout began and immediately saw an interesting sight that had nothing to do with football.
Eight metal light towers surround historic Dixon-Barle Field, and a giant nest sits atop one of them. I thought I saw the head of a large bird in the nest, and the players told me that a family of osprey live up there. Osprey have been calling the top of that light tower home for a long time, and “That nest just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said coach Bob Schwartz.
As the players lined up and began doing calisthenics, an adult osprey (Mama? Papa? Not sure) flew around the field and screeched at the goings-on. The GNK Titans are used to this, because they didn’t bat an eye. But in all the years I’ve been hanging around football fields, this was absolutely new to me.
Schwartz and senior captain Jordan Peratalo told me that dead fish and mice can occasionally be found on the field, dropped by the raptors. Yes, it’s amazing what you see as you travel around our state.
Greenway and Nashwauk-Keewatin began a cooperative partnership in football three years ago. That means the current seniors have known nothing but Titan football.
“The first year we had a great group of kids,” Schwartz said. “We had about 23 seniors combined, and you couldn’t ask for better kids to pull it together. This year there’s nobody left that was a (Greenway) Raider or a (Nashwauk-Keewatin) Spartan.”
The two schools also coop in several other sports, so the football arrangement was a natural fit as football numbers dropped at both schools.
“We had seen each other enough in other sports, so we kind of got the hang of it right away,” Peratalo said. “It didn’t take that long to mesh.”
Coming off a 5-5 season in 2010, the Titans will open the season with a home game against Deer River on Aug. 26. Zero Week requirements mean teams have to take a week off during the season, and the Titans will do so after the Deer River game and play their second game on Sept. 9 at Hibbing. They will split their four home games between Coleraine and Nashwauk.
Schwartz – who was the Greenway coach before the coop began and is in his 15th year as a head coach -- said he felt a little rushed in preparing for the start of practice, and he’s undecided on the value of Zero Week scheduling.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not,” Schwartz (right) said. “I wish they’d move the season up so we’d get those cold-weather playoff games out of the way.”
Tyler Haigh, another senior captain (along with Peratalo, Derek Bundy and Scott Webb) said starting the season on a Zero Week timetable “gets us focused earlier, it gets people around each other before school starts, and it does give us a break in between games. I like it.”
Peratalo practiced with a cast on his right hand (pictured above), thanks to an injury suffered playing baseball. He’s hoping to be in the lineup for the opener, but if not he’ll have the bye week working in his favor.
Tuesday’s drive was a good one. I saw football players in Aitkin carrying their game jerseys (picture day?) and drove through the little village of Blackberry (there’s a corporate tie-in waiting to happen) as well as Cromwell, which is well-known for its athletic successes.
As I stopped at a convenience store in Moose Lake on the way home Tuesday evening, I heard a voice from a nearby car say, “Excuse me sir, could I ask you a dumb question?” I replied, “Sure, I’m pretty dumb so I might have an answer for you.” The question was: “How do you spell excellent?” The fellow was creating an advertisement to sell a boat motor. As I spelled the word, he wrote “Runs excellent.”
You never know what you’re going to see.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 2
*Miles John has driven: 429
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