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Bemidji is regular participant at state VFW tournament

The Bemidji VFW is back at the state tournament again this year, the 19th time in its 32-year history it has reached that level.

The team begins play this morning against Morris at 11:30 a.m. at BSU.

One of six teams in the 10- team field to gain a first round bye, Bemidji would have to win a minimum of four games to take the title.

It did just that in 2010 beating Forest Lake 17-10, RanView 7-4, Worthington 16-0 and RanView again 6-3. Ryan Hirt won three of the four decisions with Trent Baker prevailing in the first RanView victory.

Should the VFW lose its opener, it could require as many as seven games to win the state title.

Last year's crown was Bemidji's second, the first since 1985.

After a long domination of District 9, this marks only the fourth trip to the state for Bemidji in the past decade.

However, it is the third straight.

Two years ago Bemidji went 2-2, beating St. Cloud East 6-0 behind Matt Schneider, losing to Morris 2-1 with Zach Solheim on the mound, eliminating Proctor 1-0 behind Ryan Stevens but bowing out to White Bear Lake 3-2 with Schneider hurling.

Bemidji brings a 26-9 record into play, at least three of the losses to American Legion teams.

It went 17-3 in district play, one of the losses coming under league rules in a rained out twin bill at Perham.

The district title was Bemidji's 19th in its 31 seasons on the diamond.

It did not field a team in 1986 the year after its first state title.

A lack of 16-year-olds that summer caused the city to field a Legion B Team instead with those 16's available merging with the large group of 17's from the 1985 VFW tournament squad.

The meet has changed drastically since Bemidji made its first appearance in 1980

Frank Pelawa founded the team that year late in the summer to fill a void in the state meet which did not have a representative from District 9.

The Vets were to have faced the Moorhead Gold, that city's Legion B Team, for the state trip.

But the Gold qualified for the Legion district tournament along with its senior team, the Blues, and opted for that route, leaving Bemidji as the only team in the district.

It divided its two starts at the state with Bryan Hickerson as its mound leader and was eliminated. The state was only a single-elimination affair at that time.

Hickerson would go on to fame with the Lumberjacks, Legion and University of Minnesota and pitch for several years in professional baseball, becoming Bemidji's only Major League performer with the Giants and Reds.

The VFW returned to the state in 1981 and repeated its two-year pattern in 1984-85 and 1988-89 before launching its nine-year run from 1992-2000.

Since then it won only in 2005 before starting the present three-year cycle.

Moorhead won three district titles and Fergus Falls two in the interim.

Moorhead now shows six district titles and Fergus Falls five. East Grand Forks (1983) and Thief River Falls (2008) have one

Surprisingly, Perham, one of the district's stronger programs, has yet to win one.

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