As a biology and environmental science teacher at Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton High School, Mike Anderson has lectured his students about the potential of pandemics from time to time.
“But that was all futuristic talk … now it’s really here,” Anderson said.
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic has been here and about everywhere else in the world for over the last two months. And for the 61-year-old Anderson, the timing could not have been worse.
Anderson would have begun his 40th year as a high school boys track-and-field coach — the first 10 years at Glyndon-Felton High School and the last 30 years with the DGF co-op. For Anderson, who has coached one state championship team and two true-team state championships, this spring’s team may have been the best.
“We just happened to be talented this year and unfortunately, nobody will get a chance to see them when they are at their peak,” said Anderson, who like all coaches in Minnesota learned in early May that all high school spring sports were canceled due to the pandemic. “It’s the largest team I’ve had, talent and depth-wise … it’s really an accumulation of four decades of work.”
Four decades ago, Anderson was a 21-year-old graduate of Concordia College — where he played football and practiced against future NFLer Barry Bennett. A knee injury forced Anderson to give up that sport. He was a track athlete at Moorhead High School, under legendary coach Jim Gotta, throwing the discus and shot put.
But he never competed in track at Concordia. Instead, he coached the Concordia women’s soccer team for five years. Little did he know track and field would be his life when he was asked to coach the sport at Glyndon-Felton High School.
“It was the one sport that really nobody else wanted at the time,” Anderson said. “I wanted to coach. I just hung onto that job and I have become very personal with the program. But track wasn’t looked at the same way it is today.”
Back in 1981 when the newly hired Anderson was roaming the hallways to recruit for track, students would quickly jump into rooms just to avoid him. In his first season as head coach, no one from Glyndon-Felton qualified for the section track meet.
That would be the only year that would happen.
In his third season, Anderson relied on two seniors at the state meet where they combined to place second in the triple jump and long jump and third in the hurdles. That accounted for enough points for Glyndon-Felton to place fourth as a team.
“That kind of lifted us up as a program,” said Anderson.
That was 1983 — the year Dilworth and Glyndon-Felton joined forces in track and wrestling. Anderson is credited for coming up with the nickname Rebels — a moniker that stayed with all Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton sports when the schools consolidated in the fall of 2004.
The spring before, the Rebels won their first state true-team championship — a meet which rewards depth by allowing every performer, not just the top eight finishers, to score points. The Rebels repeated the trick in 2005.
But it was back in 1991 when the Glyndon-Felton and Dilworth track co-op won its only traditional state track championship. It was quite a feat considering the Rebel did not have a track to practice on until 2004.
“We had an old football field with a cow path that went around it,” Anderson said. “One day, a farmer helped pay for agrilime to put on it. But other than that, we practiced on grass or on the roads in the country.”
Anderson admits he wasn’t expecting to win a state title in 1991, until he started going through the results after the first day of the meet.
“I realized we had a great shot of winning this,” said Anderson, who once again relied on depth for valuable points and standouts like Kurt Motschenbacher who was a four-event athlete and Chris Dew, a distance runner who became one of many DGF athletes to compete at North Dakota State.
“We were the first team to win a state title without having an individual state champion,” Anderson said. “We did it by nickel and diming events.”
Which brings us to the DGF team of 2020 — the year of the pandemic.
Fifteen of the 45 on the roster were seniors, who helped DGF win last year’s section championship by 54 points. Last year’s team scored in every event at the section meet. Anderson figures this year’s team would have been favored to win 12 events at the section meet that was scheduled to be held next week. His four relay teams were loaded with talent.
“We thought we could break every school record in the relays this year,” Anderson said.
Senior Aiden Leach, who played football and basketball, would have been one of those relay members. He would have been joined by junior Justin Wang, the defending section 200-meter champion whose dad was coached by Anderson. Another relay member would have been sophomore Josh Finseth, who placed fifth at last year’s state meet in the 400 as a freshman
“That is a man’s race,” Anderson said. “His goals are extremely high. He wants to run Division I track.”
In addition to Leach, the other seniors who won’t get a chance to shoot for a state title this spring include: Keaton Ring, a top hurdler last year; Cade Dawson in the middle distance; Brady Winter, a sprinter for five seasons; Bradyn Steen, an 800-meter runner; Cameron Johnson, who was aiming to set a school record in the discus and jumper Jacob Ewen.
And there was Cade Sogge, who wrestled and played football, but settled for becoming an assistant coach instead of pole vaulting or throwing the discus and shot put for Anderson.
“I’ve never had that before,” Anderson said. “He is so bright and he knew the technique and drills. He was very capable to be a coach.”
So how much longer will Anderson keep coaching track and field? For sure two more years so he can see what Wang and Finseth can accomplish — potentially racking up enough points to give DGF a second traditional state title.
“I have been blessed with good athletes and blessed with good health,” said Anderson, who says he has never taken a sick day during his 40 years at DGF. “But I’ve learned over the years that the best recruiting tool is not me … but it is the athletes I have in the program. They are my best recruiters. The kids are the ones that build the tradition.”