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Published December 23 2010

Hotzler: After 10 years, some athletes just stand out

January marks this reporter’s 10th year at The Forum. It started with the Minnesota high schools beat, moved to small colleges and switched to North Dakota high schools three years ago.

I’ve witnessed many last-second victories and agonizing defeats, talked with several colorful characters and learned a lot about how important athletics – especially high school athletics – is for athletes young and old in Fargo-Moorhead.

To commemorate this anniversary, let’s take a look at five of the most inspirational, interesting and exciting stories I’ve had the privilege to cover in my short time patrolling the North Dakota preps beat for The Forum.

They are (in no particular order):

- Fargo South’s Laura Roesler wins a record 20 individual track and field titles.

I was at Fargo South High School when Roesler came out of nowhere to win the Eastern Dakota Conference 400-meter title as a seventh-grader.

It was a “wow” moment.

And those moments didn’t stop until her final race. Roesler progressed into one of the best track and field athletes the state has ever seen. Most of her races seemed effortless. Many of them were.

She is now a freshman at the University of Oregon.

- Fargo Shanley wins first football title since 1983 with OT win over Devils Lake.

The Deacons entered the 2009 football season with a renewed sense of optimism after moving to North Dakota Class 2A from Class 3A.

And the title game was a masterpiece.

Shanley drove 76 yards in the final two minutes to knot the game at 24-24 with 8.5 seconds on the clock.

The Deacons, who earned their second straight title this year, stopped a Devils Lake

2-point conversion to secure the win.

You don’t get better than that.

- The West Fargo wrestling team stops Bismarck’s stranglehold on the state Class A dual championship.

The Packers were expected to compete for the state championship last February. However, the finish was more than anyone could have hoped for.

West Fargo freshman Preston Lehmann broke a 30-30 tie with a surprising pin of Bismarck’s Kip Jangula at 4 minutes, 29 seconds of the final match of the championship dual. The Packers won 36-30.

After the match, Lehmann called it the “best day of my life so far.”

That statement says it all.

- Homecoming queen intercepts pass in first varsity game.

Alicia Patton of Finley-Sharon-Hope-Page was named homecoming queen during halftime of her team’s football game against Richland in 2009.

Later in the night, she intercepted a pass in the first varsity action of her career. It’s one of those stories you don’t hear about every day.

Patton was energetic and enthusiastic as she talked about giving football a try for the first time that year. She competed in pageants, and wanted to try something new to round out her high school experience.

Patton’s teammates were all very supportive, and talked glowingly about her willingness to learn.

Good stuff.

- North Sargent boys basketball team helps rally a town struggling due to massive layoffs at Gwinner, N.D., Bobcat plant.

Gwinner has been hit hard due to buyouts and layoffs of hundreds of employees at the local Bobcat plant, the town’s major employer for about five decades.

The North Sargent High School boys basketball team helped take people’s minds off the hard times, and put a renewed emphasis on community pride with its state tournament appearance in 2009.

In my time in Gwinner – where the high school is located – I saw smiles, tears, sadness and happiness.

It was inspiring to see the town rally around the boys team’s first state appearance in the school’s 49-year history despite a tough economic situation.

The Bobcats finished fourth at the tournament, but the joy and excitement of getting there trumped any disappointment.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562 or hotzler@forumcomm.com. Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com