BEMIDJI -- Ninety-eight-and-a-half miles separate Chet Anderson Stadium in Bemidji and Don Adamson Field in Brainerd.
The two stadiums are home to two of the best high school football programs in northern Minnesota, and perhaps, the entire state.
And now, thanks to a bracket created by Northstar Football News, the two stadiums play host to the best rivalry in the state.
“I’m surprised we don’t have a traveling trophy,” Bemidji head coach and activities director Troy Hendricks said. “We both have Paul and Babe in our backyard, we’re 90 miles apart, we’re not affiliated in a conference together and yet the kids enjoy the competition. It’s a game they look forward to playing and I like to think they feel the same way.”
Hendricks has been the head coach of the Lumberjacks since 1995 and he doesn’t remember a time when either stadium wasn’t packed for the game against the Warriors.
Hendricks said it didn’t matter if the Lumberjacks were good -- fans would still go to the games even if the Warriors were favored.
“When our two teams meet, we have huge crowds that show up,” Hendricks said. “Even if they were lopsided for Brainerd early on. As we’ve gotten more competitive the game has grown. Sometimes we’ve won and some we’ve lost, but its always a game the kids and coaches look forward to playing.”
Adam Rossow and his staff at Northstar Football News, a subscription-based news outlet that focuses on Minnesota high school football, put together the tournament as a way to draw attention to the website during the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament.
His staff came up with 32 rivalries and matched them up as fans subscribed to the site and voted for their favorites.
“Our staff sent e-mails to crosstown schools and we chose the prominent and successful programs,” Rossow said. “We try and focus on the entire state of Minnesota in our coverage, not just the metro schools, and I had two friends that grew up with the rivalry. They talked a lot about and we agreed to include it.”
The Bemidji-Brainerd game was the northernmost game of the field and featured the two schools that are the farthest apart.
But the two fan bases were able to come together and vote that they dislike each other more than anyone else in the state.
“I knew both towns were big into football,” Rossow said. “I wasn’t surprised the two fan bases showed up, but I was a little surprised it won.”
The Bemidji vs. Brainerd game defeated Underwood vs. Verndale, St. Cloud Tech vs. St. Cloud Apollo, St. Michael/Albertville vs. Rogers, Dawson/Boyd vs. Minneota and, in the finals, Bloomington Jefferson vs. Bloomington-Kennedy by earning 58 percent of the vote.
The Bemidji-Brainerd game is not one filled with hate like many famous rivalries; it’s one built on a foundation of respect for one another and great football.
“The games are fun, particularly during the Hendricks years,” Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski said. “We enjoy playing each other. It’s not hate, it’s healthy; you know you’ll have a ball game.”
Stolski has been a part of many Bemidji-Brainerd games, his first in 1975 during a blizzard.
The Warriors lost 20-6 in the whiteout, something Stolski said was unlike any other game he had been a part of, perhaps the beginning of a rivalry in the state unlike like any other.
“The games have been so much fun,” Stolski said. “I remember a game being called at halftime due to lightning, (another) game in the Fargodome that was a two-point game and games where both teams made comebacks.”
The two teams have met 67 times in their history, and the Warriors have won 35 of those meetings while the Lumberjacks have come out with 30 wins. The teams have tied twice.
Brainerd has the recent advantage as well, winning seven of the last 10 and three of the last five.
But Bemidji holds bragging rights, for now. The Lumberjacks won the latest meeting, 40-14 at Chet Anderson Stadium.
One win in particular sticks out for Hendricks: The Lumberjacks’ 21-7 win in 2011 at Don Adamson Field.
“It was the first time Brainerd lost at home in six years,” he said. “We enjoyed that. Win or lose, we’ve had some great games and it’s never easy.”
With the two teams being so far apart, a loss means a long drive back down Highway 371.
“Whenever you lose it’s never fun,” Hendricks said. “If you go out and compete and it’s a great game, it doesn’t take long to forget. Both schools have great respect for each other.”
The 68th installment of the rivalry is up next at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at Chet Anderson Stadium.