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David Foster, 11 is a volunteer time tapper at the Big Bear Wrestling Tournament in Cass Lake that features 36 teams. With four matches going at once his job is tap the referee when the period ends. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Volunteers make Cass Lake-Bena's Big Bear Tourney a success

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Volunteers make Cass Lake-Bena's Big Bear Tourney a success
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

During the construction of the Cass Lake-Bena middle school CL-B wrestling coaches Ron Milbrandt and Mike Hanson brought tape measurers to the partially finished gymnasium to determine its dimensions.


"We wondered if it would be large enough to hold some wrestling mats," Milbrandt said Friday.

As it turns out, the middle school could accommodate a mat or two and in 2002 that discovery spurred Milbrandt and Hanson to consider hosting a large-scale wrestling tournament.

Before long the tournament became a reality and on Friday Cass Lake-Bena welcomed 36 teams to the prestigious Big Bear.

"I retired in 2003 and the tournament was my gift to Mike," Milbrandt said during a break in his schedule Friday afternoon.

The success of the Big Bear can be traced to many factors but chief among them are the many people who have dedicated themselves to the effort.

"I have 78 people who are working this tournament, not counting the match tappers and runners," Hanson, who is CL-B's activities director, said. "We have people working and volunteering this year who have been at the tournament since Day 1. For many former coaches, wrestlers and alumni the Big Bear represents a homecoming."

Among the volunteers who would not miss the event is Ann Aitken. The freshman at UMD headed home Thursday night so she wouldn't miss the opening ceremony.

"Ann has been singing the National Anthem since she was in eighth grade and this year she called me to ask if she could do it again," Hanson said. "Ann drove home Thursday and sang the anthem Friday morning. When she was done singing she headed back to Duluth because she had a final in the afternoon."

The Big Bear brings thousands of wrestling fans to the CL-B gym and school officials and organizations do their best to welcome the visitors.

"We have opened many eyes in Minnesota about how wonderful and beautiful our school and campus is," Hanson said. "I have been given many compliments about how our students are very well mannered and have great humor when dealing with the many visitors who come to our school."

The students have much more than passing contact with the visitors as they man the many concessions run by the various student organizations.

There is no reason to leave the Big Bear hungry as the student groups sell everything from hot dogs to Indian tacos and wild rice soup.

"The Big Bear helps us let our voices be heard," said CL-B speech club advisor Brian Stoebner whose organization will be offering hot dogs, popcorn, candy and bananas this weekend.

"This is our largest fundraiser of the year and last year we made over $2,000 in two days with nothing on our menu priced at more than $2."

Because of the money raised this weekend the speech team can attend meets and purchase blankets for the 35 members who make the long winter bus trips.

If a sloppy Joe sounds good, head to the National Honor Society booth and say hello to junior Alisha Smith. Many people were doing just that Friday.

"It's been a steady business," Smith said.

"The Big Bear is a major fundraiser for each activity group," said NHS advisor Carl Jacobs. "Last year we made $600 selling malts but we switched to sloppy Joe's this year and hope to approach $1,000."

The wrestling team took over the milk shake concession and junior varsity wrestler Teresa Porter and adult volunteer Mari Robinson were busy Friday keeping the customers satisfied.

"This is our first year doing this and we're just trying really, really hard to make what we can," Robinson said.

The Spanish club featured smoothies and fresh fruit on its menu and advisor Nadine Omans is grateful for the opportunity to expose her program and earn a few dollars.

"We're thankful to Mike (Hanson) that he sets up this tournament and that we can have our fundraiser," Omans said. "So far the smoothies are selling like hotcakes."

All of the students will benefit from the tacos in a bag sold by the middle school and high school yearbook staffs.

"Last year we cleared about $1,400 and that money enabled us to embellish the yearbook," said advisor Deborah Ross. "We have a poor community and not everybody can afford to buy a yearbook so the money we make this weekend also helps us keep the costs down and makes a yearbook more affordable."

Girls basketball fans do not have a game to follow this weekend and that is no accident.

"I hate fundraising but this one is different," said CL-B girls basketball coach Bill Kane whose team was selling Great River pizzas and baked goods.

"I tell Mike not to schedule any games for these two days because the girls basketball team wants to be here. This involves two 14-hour days and it is hard work but when Saturday is over we are done.

"This also is great for team bonding," Kane said. "I get to see the girls from a different perspective and they get to see me from a different viewpoint," the coach added.

The Indian Education drum and dance troupe dining area is always busy as native menu items, including fry bread and wild rice soup, are available.

"We're one of the more popular places in town," said Indian Education director Luann Frazer. "It's a great deal of work but the kids love doing it. It's also good for them to find out that not everything is handed to them and that you get good things through hard work."

Fans who want a memento can visit the table that displays hand-made artifacts built by the seventh and eighth grade Alternative Learning Center students.

"The money we raise will be used to fund a variety of ALC activities including a spring trip," said ALC mid-level teacher Luey Kane.

"Having these school organizations doing the concessions makes the tournament that much better," Hanson said. "Because of all of the people behind the scenes the tournament is a success and has grown through the years. We are proud of our school and our culture and visitors will see that pride when they come to the Big Bear."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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