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Rothsay football team to be honored 50 years after historic state title run

Players from the 1972 team will be honored as part of a reunion that changed the small Wilkin County town forever.

The 1972 Rothsay High School Football team. They were the first team to win a championship trophy for 9-man football in Minnesota.
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ROTHSAY, Minn. — Fifty years ago, the signs and banners were out on Interstate 94. It was 1972 and the Rothsay Tigers football team would advance to the first-ever state 9-man championship game.

Roger Sundby and his teammates paged through the scrapbook Roger's mother meticulously and proudly put together and preserved.

"That's me under the quarterback's armpit," joked Sundby.

It was 50 years ago when the team let people know where and who Rothsay, Minnesota, was.

"Here was the toughest game, with 42-26. (We were) behind at halftime," Sundby said, looking at a scrapbook of newspaper clippings.


Denny Lehn was a tight end on the team, Sundby was tackle and guard, and Tad Roseenter played center.

"We had confidence. I played four years, we lost one game," Sundby said.

There was no playoff system prior to 1972, so it was Rothsay's first go at it. The team has lost just two games in six years.

"We had a pretty good tradition in Rothsay. We seldom lost a game," Lehn said. "We'd get to the city limits, the windows would come down on the bus, and the cheerleaders and the players were all screaming, 'we're number one, we're number one,' all the way through town — even before (tournament time). "

Pride and tradition got Rothsay to the state's first 9-man championship game ever against Cotton At Concordia.

"I remember sitting on the bus saying, 'I can't go home a loser. (I) can't do it,'" Sundby said.

"We knew that we were loaded," Lehn said.

The Tigers won the state championship, big.


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"So we are the first town in the state of Minnesota to have a (state) championship. I know there's lots of other towns that have state championships now, but we were the very first one," Sundby said.

Rothsay fans galore made the trip up I-94 to Moorhead.

"When we came back, they had a caravan from the 108 exit and we had a big thing at the school afterwards," Tad Rose, 1972 team member, said.

The result had made headlines all over the region. A crowd bigger than the town filled the gym for a welcome-home celebration. The Rothsay cafe was all abuzz for weeks.

"I think it maybe brought some recognition to our small town. Like, 'hey look at us. We are somebody for once,'" Lehn said.

This weekend, Rothsay will once again honor the team that still impacts the Tigers and the town today.

"Most of the parents are gone now, but they were behind us. You can see it in the scrapbook. Those pictures of them having coffee at the truck stop," Sundby said.

"You never gave up on things. You had achieved something, so you had that confidence. It helped later in life," Sundby said.


Rothsay Tigers' 1972 Minnesota 9-Man Football Championship trophy in it's case at Rothsay Public School.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

That state championship trophy is front and center at the new school, as there hasn't been one there since.

The team will be honored Friday night, Sept. 23, during its home game against Sebeka.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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