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Wadena-Deer Creek students ride out the storm

WADENA, Minn. - A group of third-graders come rushing through the front entrance of Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary. In the main hall, outside the gym doors, three students grab Rachael Carlisle's legs and hug her. "Hey, guys," says the 17-year-old ...

Textbooks and football gear
Textbooks and football gear fill a classroom at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary. David Samson / The Forum

WADENA, Minn. - A group of third-graders come rushing through the front entrance of Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary.

In the main hall, outside the gym doors, three students grab Rachael Carlisle's legs and hug her.

"Hey, guys," says the 17-year-old Carlisle, who plays volleyball for Wadena-Deer Creek High School. "Are you excited for school?"

The third-graders say "yes," and their five seconds with a big-time volleyball player is the highlight of their day.

Moments like this are going to be fairly common this school year.


A crushing F4 tornado in June ripped through Wadena, altering many lives while destroying the town's high school. The destruction means high school students will have to share the hallways at the elementary school and at next-door Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

It also means this tightly knit community will use sports to escape the challenges and complications that come with rebuilding homes and lives.

"I definitely think it will bring people together," said Sue Volkmann, the high school volleyball coach. "Having sports gives people a release away from worrying about insurance companies and rebuilding, even if it is for a few hours."

Wadena-Deer Creek's football season opens tonight, providing the first of many escapes for residents this school year.

Making adjustments

Ninety-degree days aren't fun. Running on a 90-degree day isn't fun. Two-a-day football practices on a 90-degree day sure isn't fun.

The Wadena-Deer Creek football players couldn't care less about the scorching temperatures.

"All of us were wondering if we were going to have football season," said senior Nolan Johnson. "We're happy to be here, but we all know we are going to have to get used to some things."


Like not having to worry about pine trees this season.

For years, anytime a field goal would sail through the uprights at practice, it would be lost in the pine trees bordering the practice field. These days, they would love to have those trees back.

The trees have been replaced by images that are far less scenic.

In the distance, there's the high school. Or at least what's left of it. Parts of the roof are missing, and classrooms are visible through the damaged walls.

Images like this haven't been enough to scare away students from playing sports, said Activities Director Norm Gallant.

Gallant said there has not been a drop in students participating in athletics.

"What you worry about is having a mass exodus of transfer students," said Gallant, who took the job days before the tornado. "People are staying here, they are building here, and their kids want to play here."

These students are making adjustments like their parents and so many others in Wadena.


The football team no longer has a large weight room. A makeshift weight room now sits in a classroom inside the elementary school.

The volleyball team had a gym with bleachers that could fit at least 1,000 fans. Now, fans will have to bring lawn chairs to the games until new bleachers are installed at the elementary school gym.

"I've heard that some of the boys might bring couches to the games," said senior Kelsi Crawford. "Still, it's a nice gym, and we like it."

Making it work

The elementary school was fortunate not to suffer much damage. But it has gone through and will continue to undergo changes.

"It has been chaos because it has been a long summer," said Tyler Church, the high school principal, who took four summer vacation days compared to his normal 15. "It has been work nonstop. You move forward, get things done, and then something else pops up that you have to get done."

Name a problem, and Church has dealt with it.

He solved the curriculum problem by breaking into the high school a day after the storm and retrieving the school's servers loaded with lesson plans.


Church and the district took care of getting students to classes by allowing them five minutes to go from class to class.

He has even found a way to solve the biggest question on every student's mind: What's for lunch?

"We were fortunate that the woman who does our food preparation also does it for the technical school next door," he said, "so she's able to go between buildings and help both of us out."

Then there are the changes and sacrifices made by students.

Take this year's senior class as an example. Being a senior usually has its advantages, like senior privileges.

Not this year.

Sharing two schools means there won't be any senior privileges.

"We won't have a senior parking lot, which means


I can't wear flip-flops in winter," Carlisle said.

"But it's cool. We're all just happy to be back together."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548

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