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George Pelawa received congratulations from Calgary Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher after Calgary selected him 16th overall in the 1986 NHL draft. Submitted Photo

Pelawa scholarship to continue with help from Calgary Flames, local group

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As the puck dropped and squirted into the corner to start the 1986 state high school hockey tournament's first-round game between Bemidji and Hibbing, George Pelawa and the Bluejacket defenseman raced to gain control.

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The Hibbing player was the first to reach the puck and Pelawa, instead of trying to stick-handle it away, lowered his shoulder and delivered the blow.

To no one's surprise the defenseman flew into the air and crashed to the ice. To everyone's surprise the official blew the whistle and sent Pelawa to the penalty box for roughing.

Lou Nanne was among the television announcers and the viewers could imagine him shaking his head at the call.

"That wasn't a penalty," Nanne said, adding that the call was made only because the impact was bone-crushing and the ensuing collision was so loud.

Initiating contact and never avoiding it was Pelawa's on-ice style. And people noticed.

During the 1985-86 season the eyes of everyone who followed Minnesota high school hockey were riveted on George Pelawa. The Lumberjack senior was the dominant player in the state and by season's end he was named Minnesota's Mr. Hockey.

"As big and strong and tough as George was, he actually was a gentle giant," said friend and former hockey linemate Jason Meyer. "He could dominate on the baseball diamond, football field and hockey rink, but he also was a member of the high school choir. George was the first high-profile athlete at this school who I can remember being in the choir. He showed everybody that it was OK to be in activities like choir and others followed his example."

By the time he graduated, Pelawa had excelled in all three of his sports. He had been noticed by the Minnesota Twins scouts and NCAA Division I football programs were offering full rides

Hockey, however, was where Pelawa had decided to make his mark. He chose to play the following fall for UND, and the Calgary Flames chose to make him the 16th overall pick in that year's NHL draft.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck before Pelawa had the opportunity to reach his potential. On Aug. 30, 1986, he died in a two-car collision on at the intersection of Old Highway 71 and Glidden Road north of Bemidji.

The Calgary Flames officials knew how important Pelawa was to Bemidji and to his school, and the Flames established a scholarship in his name. For 20 years a BHS student/athlete would be the recipient of the $1,000 scholarship, and for 20 years the memory of Pelawa and the impact he had on his community would be displayed.

"Everybody, even before George became this phenom, respected him," Meyer said. "Nobody ever said anything bad about George because there was nothing bad you could say about him.

"If the school was to have a scholarship named after someone, George was the perfect person," Meyer added.

The Flames officials were happy to be the catalyst for the George Pelawa scholarship and they honored the 20-year commitment which ended in 2007.

George's parents, Frank and Winnie, also realized the importance of maintaining the scholarship, and for the past three years they have provided the $1,000.

Meyer and a group of Pelawa's high school hockey teammates recently discovered that Frank and Winnie were quietly chipping in the scholarship money. And the group decided to do something about it.

"When George died we thought about providing the scholarship ourselves but the Calgary Flames offered to do it for 20 years," Meyer said. "We didn't think anything more about it until Scott Cruikshank, a reporter from the Calgary newspaper, wanted to do a follow-up story on George and told me that Frank and Winnie were footing the bill."

Meyer, Flames officials and Cruikshank have been in discussion about how to best maintain the scholarship. The Flames have graciously offered to restore their commitment and will provide $15,000 over a 2-year period.

Locally, a committee has been formed to collect enough funds to match Calgary's offer and when the combined $30,000 is reached the scholarship will be permanently endowed, Officials with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation will oversee the trust fund.

Joining Meyer on the committee are Scott Johnson, Keith Dahl, Mike Amble and Frank and Winnie Pelawa.

"If we can get our $15,000 and the Flames match that figure we will be able to donate to other community programs in George's name in addition to providing the $1,000 scholarship," Meyer said. "I have talked with the Flames officials about this possibility and they think it is a great idea."

Cruikshank and 19 others already have donated $100 to the fund. Meyer hopes others will follow that lead.

"We will accept any amount but our thought is if we can get 150 people to donate $100 we will have our $15,000 match," Meyer said. "But any amount will be accepted. There is no minimum and as long as people want to contribute we'll take the donations."

The easiest way to donate is to visit the Northwest Minnesota Foundation's website at www.nwmf.org. A link is provided that will explain how to donate to the George Pelawa Foundation Education Fund.

"Everybody we've talked to has been overwhelmingly in support of our cause," Meyer said. "George was a special person and this is one way we can keep his keep his memory alive."

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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