A jersey for inspiration: North Border prepared for memorable, emotional Friday game

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

WALHALLA – 2022 will be a first for 10-year head coach Tim Hartje and the North Border Eagles. 

North Border will host Larimore on Sept. 23.

Of course, the milestone didn’t come from how the former or latter performed on the field. Instead, the team will formulate such memories from what they decide to do before they step on the gridiron Friday evening. 

On the surface, North Border’s Sept. 23 game against Larimore might have been just any other football game under the lights. But for the Eagles, the game would mean something more. After all, the game will act as jersey night. But not just any standard jersey giveaway. Instead, each player will give their jersey to someone they respect and are inspired by daily. 

Giving away their jersey was only one piece of the puzzle. Each player also had to write a one-page essay on their person. There were caveats – players could not pick a direct family member, and players could not pick the same person. Players picked their person based on seniority – seniors picked their person first, followed by juniors. And so on. 

On the surface, a gesture of this magnitude might have sounded like a team tradition of old.

Any assumption similar to this would have been a wrong one. 

“This is the first ever time we’ve done this,” Hartje said. “I found this on social media where a coach did this, and they did it…they were in a big school, and they did it with teachers in their school. Well, being two small schools and, you know, things like that. I just tried to put it out to anyone that is a role model to them. An inspiration to them. Someone they look up to.” 

Within the 20+ essays, Hartje noticed a pattern. The pattern, in particular, came in the volume of teachers picked. 

Senior defensive tackle Cody Eisenbeis followed this theme. His reasoning behind picking Justine Gruenberg – the current Pembina principal and a former teacher of Eisenbeis – was a meaningful one dating back years. 

“I picked the principal [Gruenberg],” Eisenbeis said. “She has helped me a lot with mentality things and even with college decisions and stuff. So that’s kind of the reason I picked her. She was my teacher back in sixth grade for English, and ever since then, I mean, she is a great person that influences a lot of people.” 

Marcia Halldorson, a high school special education teacher, was picked by freshman guard and defensive lineman Cole DeNault. 

From what will likely be an emotional evening, Halldorson believes the jersey swap will be an opportunity to take a step back and realize what is important in life. 

Because of this, emotion won’t be exclusive to just the players, according to Halldorson. 

“I think it will be good for the kids to be able to reflect on what’s important to them as far as people in the community that care for them and take time in their lives to try to help the kids to try to influence the kids to steer them in the right directions,” Halldorson said. 

Time for reflection won’t be the only takeaway from the ceremony. To senior linebacker Ethan Stegman, the event will also serve as a way to show thanks. 

Stegman’s reasoning behind picking Jessica Reidhammer was a personal one. After Stegman decided to take off from his family due to drug issues in the latter, Reidhammer and her support group decided to take him in. 

“A year-and-a-half ago, I was struggling with family issues,” Stegman said. “They took me in for a year-and-a-half and raised me like their own kid. It meant a lot to me, and when Tim [Hartje] told me about the jersey night, that’s the first person that shot into my head.”

From his newfound support group, Stegman found life. Communication skills went up, as did grades. Newfound mojo, according to Stegman, also increased. 

To Stegman, the event will serve as a critical reminder. 

“Don’t take anyone for granted because when you lose somebody, it really does affect you in a long-term way, honestly,” Stegman said.  

The North Border Eagles watch film before their Sept. 23 game against Larimore.

While players will have the opportunity to give back to their role models, the event will also serve as a way to bring the entire community together. 

The memories from such an event, as such, will be unforgettable.  

“It shows you around our community how we appreciate everyone in it, and it just shares how everyone relies on everybody in this town,” Stegman said. It’s not really you only relying on yourself. Like, this whole town is a family.” 

“It just kind of shows out there [that] we are all together in this,” Hartje said. 

Consider the event a memorable first. 

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com), Instagram (johnbcranesports) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.