This isn’t an accurate number but over the last two years, I have written upwards of 1,000 stories for the Devils Lake Journal. Wading through all of that from memory, pinpointing my favorites is easy because there are more stories that were less than stellar (from blowouts to not as great of writing) than were memorable.
There are other stories, a few covered by me and a few that weren’t. Langdon Area-Edmore-Munich’s titles in both football and girls basketball for example. I didn’t cover the Cardinals 2019 volleyball or football championships but they need to mention as top stories as well as Devils Lake’s girls hockey stint in this year’s state tournament. I wasn’t there for the 2-1 four overtime quarterfinal marathon win over Grand Forks but as the Firebirds wrapped up the tournament in fourth, I was there inside Scheels.
And despite Firebirds girls basketball not making the cut, what Justin Klein has done with his program during my tenure is nothing short of excellence. The Devils Lake community is better for it.
7) Making the impossible … possible: The story of Alexander Paulson was my first feature story for the Journal and it came about because his mother, Paulette, contacted me to give me the details. Stories such as these shine the light on individual achievements wrapped in the aged old yarn of one overcoming a minor challenge to become, to be, someone extraordinary. Paulson became a Taekwondo world champion, the first in ATA Devils Lake history and all while living with Down syndrome.
The Associated Press picked up on the story and it garnered me honorable mention honors at the North Dakota Newspaper Association for feature writing. I only wrote three other features during my tenure, none as impactful as Paulson’s story.
6) Vilandre pitches Firebirds to the upset of top seed: The title of this particular article is too long for this piece but the pullout quote that I used from Firebirds head coach Brent Luehring summarizes it perfectly, “That was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a high school pitcher. He was just a bull dog.” Then junior Parker Vilandre allowed a run in the first inning against the Eastern Dakota Conference’s No. 1 Grand Forks Central, put stranded 11 runners afterwards, including two innings where Vilandre faced bases loaded situations but gave up nada as the Firebirds won 3-1.
The 2020 baseball season was canceled so I only covered the Firebirds diamond guys for one season. That one, from the performance to the writing, “Parker Vilandre only struck out four batters. But you have to go full archeologist to dig deep enough to realize the brilliant performance the Devils Lake junior had on the mound,” is the best from that season.
5) Indians stun No. 4 Rugby behind Dauphinais’ 24: Between both the dominance of Devils Lake and Langdon-E-M, Four Winds-Minnewaukan’s run in girls basketball has been just as special over the last two seasons. One of the better games from the Indians came against the Panthers who came into Fort Totten unbeaten. A back and forth contest for most of the game, the Indians’ led by one with just over a minute remaining when then freshman Myona Dauphinais 3-pointer sent the Panthers back to Rugby with the L.
Outside the game being a great one, the storytelling was also pretty good.
“With possession, the Indians moved the ball into their half-court set. Myona Dauphinais stepped back behind the three-point line, called for the ball and ... well she’ll explain it to you.
“Jazmine (Lohnes) dribbled penetrated, kicked out and I had to knock it down.”
Dauphinais’ 3-pointer with 50 seconds left proved to be enough as the Indians knocked off the Panthers 63-57 Saturday.
The freshman guard finished with a game-high 24 points, including two free- throws that iced it for the Indians who have won three straight. Dauphinais also had four steals.
“It was very nerve racking,” Dauphinais said of those free throws that kept the Indians (9-2) up four with seconds remaining. “I just had to concentrate and make my free throws.”
“Myona is a helluva player when she puts her mind to it,” said Indians coach Sean Gourd.
Rugby went on to compete in the Class B state title game later that season.
4) Firebirds steal 61-59 win over Spartans: Although I’m a social media head, I’ve never cared about trivialities such as “going viral.” But sometimes it just happens. Against Fargo North, the Firebirds and the Spartans were tied at 59. The Spartans had possession out of the timeout and the ball at mid court, Michael Widmer steals the ball from Carter Peratt, dives to keep it in play which eventually led to a Grant Nelson dunk that lifted the Firebirds to the win.
I had presence of mind to video that final sequence. That article, which had the video hotlinked within it, got 827 views.
3) Firebirds take two-time defending AA champs to the brink, fall short: There’s a picture on the second page of a 2018 Sports section of Joey Hornstein (blurry as it is) getting stopped on the ‘G’. That was how close Devils Lake was to potentially upsetting then two-time reigning champions Bismarck St. Mary’s. The Firebirds, who trailed for the first three quarters, scored 12 points over the final 12 minutes of the game, including converting two fourth downs on their final drive to get within two.
But when the two yards were needed, the Saints found away to remain unscathed.
“Devils Lake did what they needed to do,” said St. Mary’s head coach Dan Smrekar. “They got the drive, they got the score but we stood up and got it done on the 2-pt conversion.
“It was an exciting, good football game.”
And one the best ones I’ve covered.
2) No. 1 Burros survive turnover fest over No. 4 Firebirds in overtime: “The field — a sloppy mess. The ball — hit the ground more times than the raindrops that turned the playing surface into a muddy soup. And the game — came down to a series of one plays.” That’s how I led the story for the instant classic between Devils Lake and eventual 2A state champion Hillsboro/Central Valley.
The Firebirds saw themselves on the brink of upsetting the unbeaten Burros on their home turf. After tying the game in the third quarter off of a Vilandre 2 yard TD run and Robby Serumgard extra point, the Firebirds scored first in the overtime to take the lead and forced the Burros to a fourth down on their possession. However, Lake Region State College signee Carson Henningsgard made a leaping catch in the back corner of the end zone (with the made extra point) that snatched the 14-13 win from the jaws of defeat.
The two teams combined for eight turnovers and the game will be locked into my memory bank as the best, albeit ugliest, game I covered during my tenure at the Journal.
1) Hollywood story: No. 2 on this list is the best in-game coverage of the past two years. The best story during my tenure is Four Winds’ football program earning its first ever state playoff berth in 9-man football.
“We kept saying before the (final regular season) game that this usually how Hollywood movies are made. You get the school that’s never made the playoffs, that’s kind of always been the laughing stock of the league and all of a sudden they have a group of kids that come and decide that they want to dedicate their time and their season in making the playoffs,” Four Winds co-head football coach Travis Mertens said for the story at the time.
Entering 2018, the Indians were two seasons removed from playing just a junior varsity schedule and a season removed from going winless in its first season as a varsity program. Yet, the Indians, who lost their best player in then senior Gionni Robertson the game prior to the playoff clincher, won their final four games to clinch a spot in the 9-man field of 24.
The Indians finished the season 5-4, losing their lone playoff game to Oakes. In 2019, the Indians had an even better season, going 4-2 but because of their status as an Independent, they weren’t eligible for the playoffs. Four Winds football program is a budding one and a story well worth its No. 1 spot.
For Part 1, click here.