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VFW returning to state for 18th time in history

The Bemidji VFW is back at the state tournament again this year, the 18th time in its 31-year history that it has reached that level.

The Vets begin play at Austin 2 p.m. today facing Forest Lake.

One of six teams in the 10-team event to gain a first-round bye, Bemidji would have to win a minimum of four games to take the title, its first since 1985.

After a long domination of the District 9 tourney, this marks only the third state trip in the past decade for the Vets, but the second in succession.

Last year it waltzed through the district in three games, beating Detroit Lakes 19-0 and Fergus Falls 21-14 and 14-11 in a pair of slugfests.

It divided its four starts at the state event, beating St. Cloud East 6-0 behind Matt Schneider, bowing to Morris 2-1 with Zach Solheim on the hill, stopping Proctor 1-0 behind Ryan Stevens and bowing to White Bear Lake 3-2 with Schneider hurling.

Bemidji takes a 26-5 mark into the meet, four of the five losses coming to American Legion opposition.

It went 20-0 in the regular-season district race and 4-1 in the playoffs, coming back from a second-round loss to Moorhead to stop the Gold in two games for the title, both 6-1 decisions.

The title is Bemidji's 18th in its 30 years on the diamond

It did not field a team in 1986, the year after it won its only state title.

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

Frank Pelawa formed the VFW 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 met the Moorhead Gold, its American Legion B team, for the state trip.

The Gold, however, qualified for its district Legion tournament and opted for that route leaving Bemidji unopposed.

It divided its two starts with Bryan Hickerson as its mound leader and was eliminated.

Hickerson would go on to stardom at the University of Minnesota and pitch for several years in the National League as Bemidji's only Major League performer.

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

Since then it has taken the district only in 2005 and the past two years with Moorhead winning three titles and Fergus Falls two. Moorhead shows six district crowns and Fergus five. East Grand Forks (1983) and Thief River Falls (2008) have won once.