The BHS Gymnasium will always hold a special place in my heart. Specifically the northwest baseline, about 10 feet from the hoop.
That was the spot where my own varsity career got going back in 2012: My first shot, my first points and, later that night, my first win.
Honestly, wins were usually pretty frequent against the Lumberjacks in those days. I played for East Grand Forks, where hockey is king, and yet we still had a basketball team that marched into Bemidji and won by 53 points in 2013. We went to state that season. BHS won four games.
Just a few years later, the state of Bemidji basketball has shifted radically.
Now, my Green Wave are still holding their own in Section 8AA. But the Jacks -- both boys and girls -- have transformed back into respected programs of the Northland.
They haven’t yet entered into a golden era à la the Bun Fortier years of the 1950s and ‘60s, when the boys won a staggering 20 of 26 region championships, or like the 1980s and ‘90s, when the girls program flourished under Jim Wahl. Still, there is budding optimism that such an era is close, and the fact that it’s simply part of the conversation is a statement of its own.
This season’s teams went a combined 38-16 after going 39-17 last year. Both win totals are more than any other teams since a combined 42-12 record during the days of Kayla Hirt and Carey Woods in 2009-10.
This March, the girls also reached their first section championship game in a decade, and the boys are a year removed from their first state tournament appearance in 34 years.
While the programs have been rising, they’ve not quite reached the summit. And who knows? High school sports are funny, so maybe they never will. But I’ve witnessed head coaches Steve Schreiber and Travis Peterson build winning cultures that go beyond X’s and O’s, and it doesn’t feel all that fickle.
Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty fun to enter into a hostile environment and win my first game almost a decade ago. But now that I’ve been back far more frequently as a reporter, it’s been cool to chronicle the turnarounds up close and personal the last few seasons, too.
Fans will remember names like Lindsey Hildenbrand and Colten Jensen, like Katie Alto and Ben and Silas Hess -- just to name a few. I’ve witnessed all of them win a lot of games for Bemidji (and not just in basketball, mind you). That core furthered the efforts of BHS graduates like Rumer Flatness and Linaes Whiting, both 1,000 Point Club members who first started to right the ship in the years prior.
Fans will remember the girls’ Chaos Unit, originating and popularized in 2016, for its fast-and-fearless style off the bench. They’ll remember the boys’ similar run-and-gun trademark where you’ll be left in the dust if you forget your track shoes at home. The school song has echoed out more times than I can count, and an often-crowded student section sets the tone for a consistently intense atmosphere.
The future is still unwritten, and new Lumberjacks will be here to author it. But there have already been countless meaningful moments inside the BHS Gymnasium within the past few seasons. So I’m sure I’m not the only one with fond memories of that gym.