‘History of their own’

MINNEOTA “There are a lot of banners in here, a lot of history,” Minneota head girls’ basketball coach Chad Johnston told the throng of family and fans gathered inside the Minneota High School gymnasium to celebrate the Vikings Class A state championship on Saturday.

Johnston’s notion bordered on understatement. The banners lining the west wall of the gym are at risk of overflowing onto the north and south ends of the gym.

Sorted by their respective sports, one section of the wall has long lagged behind the growing counts of its neighbors.

“These girls made history of their own today,” Johnston said. With their 61-51 win over Ada-Borup at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the Vikings earned the first state basketball title (boys or girls) in school history.

Though Minneota has a storied history in football, volleyball, baseball, cross country and wrestling; girls’ basketball has been an upstart program. And it was that program that kept Johnston, who is also the head coach of the football team, in town.

Following Minneota’s 2009 Class A state title on the gridiron, Johnston was offered a head coaching position at a bigger school. He told the crowd on Saturday that the move would have required him to give up coaching basketball, and that was something he wasn’t ready to do. The decision has paid dividends on the court as well as off of it.

“I’m proud to call Minneota home and I look forward to my kids growing up in this community,” Johnston said, not to garner applause from the crowd, but as a heartfelt thank you to the 1,500-plus family known as Minneotans.

“I think in the small communities your school is such a central part of your community,” said Harlen Ulrich, Minneota activities director and high school principal. “So many things go on athletically or with the fine arts that you’ve got to back it up or else you’re not going to have it much longer. The days of declining enrollment are here, and you’ve got to protect what you’ve got. You can see the support we had with this (welcome home celebration), this is really something.”

Ulrich addressed the crowd earlier in the evening before introducing the team.

“It’s incredible how often we do this,” he said in reference to the welcome home celebration. “I hope we never take it for granted.”

Judging by the turnout at Williams Arena on Thursday and the Target Center Friday and Saturday, the town’s residents have taken nothing for granted.

“It’s a great following,” Ulrich said. “The thing is it’s not just one event. You win you move on. It’s kind of a one and done situation, and it just seems that every game that you move on there are more people there, which is really cool. Today there were more people there than yesterday and more people on Friday than Thursday. It was good to see.”

The Vikings’ classmates also attended the games in droves, returning the support that the young women had shown them at their activities.

“We didn’t have school on Thursday so the kids could come down if they wanted,” Ulrich said. “There were over 100 students gone on Friday, because we did have school in session. The kids were excused if they wanted to go to the game, and they did.”