‘One big team’ in Minneota

Community fired up over football team’s second chance against Wabasso

Photo by Jenny Kirk After taking a few formal photos in front of the football trophy case after school on Monday, members of the state championship-bound Minneota Vikings team bunch together as one. Then they headed off to coach Chad Johnston’s room to watch film.

MINNEOTA — As you drive through the small community of Minneota, there are no signs posted that wish the Vikings football team “good luck” as they prepare to take on the Wabasso Rabbits in the State 1A Championship on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Some might think the team doesn’t need luck. After all, the Minneota football team has won three state championships since 2009 (2009, 2014 and 2015). It was also runner-up champs in the 2013-14 season.

But it’s likely that neither the coaches nor players are overconfident — confident, yes, but not overconfident. And it’s not that the community isn’t supportive — it’s obvious that they do.

“It’s not the kind of community where you see posters plastered all over — though we’ve done that once in awhile,” Minneota Mascot publisher Byron Higgin said. “I think it’s just kind of a quiet respect — respect for the program, respect for the kids who have worked their tails off — and a lot of pride.”

As an advocate for the Minneota School and community, Higgin spends a lot of time getting to know people. He photographs them, writes about them and most of the time, cheers them on.

“As a member of the older part of the community, sometimes you wonder if these guys are excited about our kids being in the state championship,” he said. “But I think the community is really fired up. The community is really ready. I think not having a team in (the state tournament) last year — losing to Wabasso — got everybody’s spirits up for this year. It’s like we’ve got another chance.”

Minneota has been a dominant force in its section, but it’s had its disappointments as well. In addition to being defeated by Wabasso last football season, the Vikings also missed out on a state trip when they were outscored by Dawson-Boyd in 2012. Now, with ever-changing state realignments, Minneota has oftentimes met up with those high-caliber teams in the state finals instead.

“I think the neatest part is that Minneota, in the state football finals, has played Adrian, which was an arch rival, we’ve played Dawson-Boyd, which is our big-time rival, and now we’re going to play Wabasso, which is kind of a new rival,” Higgin said. “They’re the only team that has beaten us in the last 50 games. So here we get a chance to revenge and play them again. I think it’s awesome.”

Higgin’s prediction is that if the Vikings play like they did against Mayer-Lutheran in the state semifinals, the Rabbits don’t stand a chance.

“The performance (Minneota) had last Saturday was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen,” he said. “They just went out and blew this team apart.”

Amy Lozinski and her family were at that game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“There were a lot of people there,” she said. “It was packed. The camaraderie of the community, the players and the coaches is just awesome. Everyone comes together as one big team.”

At 9 years old, Lozinski’s only son, Brody, is quite a few years away from the possibility of suiting up for the Vikings team. But it’s never too early to support the team and experience the thrill of being at a state tournament.

“It takes everybody,” Amy Lozinski said. “You have to have the support of the community. I think that’s super important. It’s good to support the staff and the athletes. And the community is really involved. They love their sports teams.”

Lozinski said she and her family anticipate heading back to Minneapolis on Saturday for the state championship showdown.

“The fans at the last game were awesome,” she said. “The camaraderie of the fans is just huge and has always been, so I would expect a very big turnout again.”

As senior citizens in the community, Tom Yeo and Bryan Van Overbeke were quick to acknowledge how times have changed over the years.

“I was a farmer, so I had to go home after school,” Yeo said. “They put so much into sports now that it actually spoils it. It’s not like it used to be. When you send a team to the state and it costs you $40,000-50,000 to get there and back, plus room and board, that’s not school anymore.”

That isn’t to say Yeo isn’t supportive of the Vikings team.

“We used to go to all the games up until the last seven or eight years,” he said. “We used to go to pretty near all of the football and wrestling games.”

Though he doesn’t know most of the kids personally, he’s a neighbor to quarterback Alex Pohlen, and he wishes the team well.

“They’ve went this far, so I hope they can go the rest of the way,” Yeo said. “It’s also nice that it’s two local teams fighting it out.”

Van Overbeke said he wishes that newspaper coverage would include more academic successes for students.

“They don’t even publish an honor roll anymore and half of the paper is sports,” he said.

Unlike some schools, Minneota is fortunate to have a lot of success in both sports and academics.

“If you go up and down the streets in Minneota, you’re not going to find a lot of businesses,” Higgin said. “You can go to Canby or Dawson and find a lot of businesses. But we have a school that puts them all away. That’s because the pride is in the school. We don’t have a lot of things to hold onto anymore — there’s only one industrial business left on the edge of town and just a few businesses downtown. But we’ve got the school and it’s the heart of our community.”

Minneota’s state test scores have been the best in the area the past few years, so students seem to be finding a good balance.

“If you went into any program, you’d find that most of our kids are A or B students,” Higgin said. “We’re a very good academic school.”

Higgin noted that Minneota isn’t just a one-sport wonder either. Several other Viking teams, including volleyball, girls basketball and golf, have advanced to the state tournament recently.

“That’s what makes it so special,” he said. “It’s not just a football town. It’s become a really good volleyball community and a lot of other things.”

Success has become a tradition at Minneota.

“I’ve been here nine years and I’ve been down to eight years of state tournaments,” Higgin said. “More than anything, it’s two, three or four state tournaments a year. Last year was the only year in which we had only one state tournament team and that was girls golf.”

While the success might make more work for some people, including Higgin, it’s unlikely that anyone would change it for the world.

“It causes extra work and I’ll get right back from the tournaments and start getting extra editions put together,” Higgin said. “But I’ve just kind of gotten used to it because we do it all the time. It’s been a passion of love between me and the community and the kids.”