If banners could talk, the BHS Gymnasium would have plenty to say.
Bemidji High School is full of championship banners that cover the walls and hang from the ceiling. They hold tales of heroic moments and unforgettable athletes, and they voice the accomplishments worthy of permanent recognition.
But 13 of the banners stand well above the others. Those 13 mark the school’s state championships, dressed proudly in first-place, Lumberjack blue.
Those teams all proved to be the greatest in all of Minnesota, but the question remains: Which is the best of the best?
All 13 champions have been seeded and paired, as have a “mythical” state champion football team and the next two most accomplished gridiron squads from before the advent of a state tournament. And now it’s time for you to decide.
Brush up on your history, weigh your options and cast your ballots to determine who advances, starting today, until an ultimate champion is crowned on Thursday, April 2. Each round opens at noon and will last 48 hours.
Find the teams, matchups and, most importantly, cast your votes below.
Cast your ballots
Voting for each round lasts 48 hours, starting and ending at noon. Winners will advance until a champion is crowned.
Round 1 voting: March 25-27
Round 2 voting: March 27-29
Round 3 voting: March 29-31
Round 4 voting: March 31-April 2
UPDATE: View first-round winners and quarterfinal matchups here.
(1) 1973 baseball vs. (16) 1975 boys golf
1973 baseball: The boys of summer are the top seed for a reason. Earl Sargent threw a no-hitter in the state tournament opener, also driving in the game’s only run for a 1-0 win over Glencoe, and Andy Kannenberg tossed back-to-back four-hitters in the semifinals and finals. Led by head coach Chuck Grillo and assistant Des Sagedahl, the Lumberjacks finished 18-4 and captured their lone state crown with a 3-1 victory over Winona.
1975 boys golf: One of the area’s biggest faces in golf started out in the halls of Bemidji High School. Before the lauded Bill Israelson took to the PGA Tour, he guided the Jacks to the 1975 team title. He and Eric Niskanen, Brett Yetter and Jack Schwartz compiled a team score of 463, tops in Minnesota in the final year of a one-class system.
Vote who advances in our banner bracket. Here's the first matchup:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(8) 2004 girls golf vs. (9) 1991 boys golf
2004 girls golf: The most recent state championship at BHS is also the school’s only girls team to finish the season with a title. Longtime head coach Jeff Nelson saw his Lumberjacks finish with a team score of 689, two strokes ahead of second-place Burnsville, to claim the most coveted hardware around. Alyssa Williamson placed fourth on the individual leaderboard with a team-best 161.
1991 boys golf: The 1991 season capped a dynasty on the shores of Lake Bemidji. A team score of 631 was good enough for the program’s fourth consecutive state championship, which is still tied for the state record today. Andy Brink, the 1992 individual champion, entered into rare air in ‘91 as the only member on all four BHS teams during the run.
Matchup No. 2:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(5) 1952 football vs. (12) 1974 boys basketball
1952 football: Technically the 1952 gridiron squad didn’t win a state championship game, but unofficially, Bemidji can still claim the crown. Prior to 1972, the Minnesota State High School League had no playoff system, so in 1947, the Minneapolis Tribune named a “mythical state champion.” The Jacks’ 8-0 season, which included a 32-13 beatdown of North Dakota state champ Fargo Shanley, earned them the state title distinction.
1974 boys basketball: With 30 region or section titles, the boys hoops program is perhaps the most storied at BHS. Led by BHS Athletic Hall of Famers Stan Drew, Don Hubbel, Jack Schwartz and head coach Jack Luoma, the 1973-74 squad was the program’s most recent to run the table. Bemidji defeated Richfield 52-50 for the state title before Melrose upset BHS in the battle of Class A and Class AA champions.
Matchup No. 3:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(4) 1989 boys golf vs. (13) 1990 boys golf
1989 boys golf: BHS Athletics Hall of Fame coach Larry Perkins went out with a bang in 1989. Thanks to a team score of 621, BHS captured its second consecutive state title in Perkins’ final season at the helm. Andy Brink and current Bemidji Town and Country Club head professional Rick Grand helped get the job done, winning the championship trophy to pair with its 1988 counterpart already in the trophy case.
1990 boys golf: Not to be outdone, Bemidji was back for thirds in 1990. The Lumberjacks didn’t miss a beat under new head coach Jim Mergens, an eventual 2009 BHS Athletics Hall of Fame inductee. The team score dipped a bit to 647, but it didn’t keep BHS from hoisting its third Class AA trophy in as many years and fifth all-time.
Matchup No. 4:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(6) 1988 boys golf vs. (11) 1964 football
1988 boys golf: The one that sparked a dynasty came in 1988. The Lumberjacks won the program’s third-ever state championship through a team score of 622. But the feat also doubled as foreshadowing, as no one in Minnesota bested Bemidji for the next three seasons, either. The 1988 squad set the standard for a four-year run that has never been outmatched in state tourney history.
1964 football: Though the 1964 football team didn’t win a state championship, it was through no fault of their own. BHS went 9-0, tied for the program’s best-ever record, and outscored opponents by an average score of 33-7. Without a playoff system in place, only the conclusion of the regular season could end a dominant run that included four shutouts and seven offensive showcases of 30-plus points.
Matchup No. 5:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(3) 1948 boys basketball vs. (14) 1988 girls track and field
1948 boys basketball: The 1947-48 boys basketball team was perhaps the mightiest squad ever assembled at BHS. The Lumberjacks won a program-record 28 games, including a 38-29 state title victory over Hopkins. Wes Sabourin and Charles Grover, both all-state selections, respectively scored 13 and nine points in the championship, and Bemidji mayor Lyle Caughey even awarded head coach Mike Lagather the key to the city upon the team’s triumphant return home.
1988 girls track and field: No, this championship didn’t come at the state meet, but BHS would probably argue that its True Team state title was more worthy of glory. Boys track coach Dick Phelps was a pioneer in the creation of the True Team meet, which rewards team depth rather than the individual efforts of a handful of top performers. In just the meet’s second year, the Bemidji girls won it all.
Matchup No. 6:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(7) 1948 football vs. (10) 1936 boys basketball
1948 football: Heralded as the team that kicked off “the great Bemidji football tradition,” the 1948 forces outscored opponents 305-55 and steamrolled to a perfect 9-0 season to establish the program’s still-standing best all-time record. Though their dominance came before the formation of a state tournament, keeping them from a chance at the title, the school’s 1948 squad was just one of six 20th-century teams to eclipse 300 points in a single season.
1936 boys basketball: This team will be remembered as the one that started it all. The H.M. “Buck” Robbins-led Lumberjacks hand delivered BHS its first-ever state championship in 1936. In front of an estimated 9,000 fans, Bemidji was a 26-20 victor over Wadena in an all-Northland title game. Norman Galloway topped all state tournament scorers with 12.7 points per game, including 16 in the championship, and his squad finished the season 21-4.
Matchup No. 7:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
(2) 1997 boys golf vs. (15) 1956 boys golf
1997 boys golf: The 1997 team may be the most dominant of all Bemidji boys golf squads. The Lumberjacks only lost once all year under head coach Eric Niskanen, and it came when the BHS B Team upended the BHS A Team at the Bemidji Invitational. The Jacks still rolled to the state championship with a team score of 625, and no school in Minnesota has more state titles (seven) or appearances (25) than the Jacks.
1956 boys golf: The most successful program in Bemidji High School athletics got its start in 1956. The boys golfers not only won their first region championship, but they even doubled down with a state title to boot. The feat was the second state championship for Mike Lagather, who also coached the 1947-48 basketball squad. The weather-shortened state tournament saw Bemidji’s 485 score atop the leaderboard through 27 holes. The rest, as they say, is history.
And, finally, matchup No. 8:— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) March 25, 2020
Editor's note: Due to the polls running in tweet form, only users with Twitter accounts have access to vote. All other voters can submit their entries by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.