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GIRLS TENNIS: Bemidji honors inaugural team with Title IX ceremony, 4-3 win

The coach of the 1974 BHS girls tennis team, now 91-year-old Marion Johnson, was present on Tuesday at the BHS tennis courts, as were three players from the formative squad – Kay (Aultman) Mack, Jody (Johnson) Smith and Jean (Clark) Wright.

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Former BHS girls tennis players Kay (Aultman) Mack, left, and Jody (Johnson) Smith stand with their former coach, Marion Johnson, center, during a 50th anniversary Title IX celebration on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI – Some things are simply more significant than sports.

Kyle Fodness, a middle school history teacher and the head coach of the Bemidji High School girls tennis team, likes to invoke historical themes on occasion. So when the Lumberjacks had the chance to honor the program’s inaugural team from 1974, he was all in.

“You bring history into the tennis court sometimes,” Fodness said. “We talk a lot about our recent history in that regard as a program, but it's a good reminder to the girls that the history of the program goes back a long ways.”

The coach of that team, now 91-year-old Marion Johnson, was present on Tuesday at the BHS tennis courts, as were three players from the formative squad – Kay (Aultman) Mack, Jody (Johnson) Smith and Jean (Clark) Wright. They were honored in a ceremony prior to Bemidji's matchup with Staples-Motley.

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Former BHS girls tennis player Kay (Aultman) Mack speaks during a 50th anniversary Title IX celebration on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“They said that they were going to have Marion come down, and they had heard that I was on that first tennis team,” said Mack, a senior on the inaugural group. “I then connected with my old doubles partner and some of the other women from our class to come. But the tennis parents really put it together. It's pretty cool of them.”

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Though it was the 48th anniversary of BHS girls tennis, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. Signed into law on June 23, 1972, it prevents discrimination based on sex in federally funded programs and activities.

“It exposed girls to things that they didn't know whether they would like or not, because they'd never had the chance,” Mack said. “I ended up playing tennis the rest of my life. I probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been for high school tennis.”

The program continues on robustly to the present day, as the Jacks christened the occasion with a hard-fought 4-3 victory over the Cardinals. But Tuesday belonged to the players who had trailblazed the girls team’s initial traditions.

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Bemidji senior Aline Arenas warms up during a match against Staples-Motley on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“We just (thought), ‘Hey, someone gave us a chance to join something,’ and we joined,” Mack said. “We did not think of it as earth-shattering or earth-breaking, honestly. The legislator who sponsored the legislation, she probably did, but we didn't. Our coaches probably did, but we were just kids. We just played.”

Nevertheless, Mack recognized the impact she and her classmates still have on the program 48 years later.

“The difference now from then is that now we know it's a big deal,” she said. “Back then, none of our parents made a really big deal about it either. But now we know that it (was) history-making.”

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Bemidji senior Anna Glen warms up during a match against Staples-Motley on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The current iteration of the Lumberjacks (14-2) made their forebears proud on Tuesday, and no one gave them more to cheer for than third singles player Aline Arenas. With the overall matchup tied at 3-3, the senior from Spain dug out a 3-6, 6-3, 10-5 victory to give Bemidji the team win.

She was buttressed by the BHS doubles lineup, which swept all three of its matchups. No. 1 pair Darby Neis and Maddie Jensen rolled 6-4, 6-1, No. 2 duo Kendal Midboe and Elena Peterson triumphed 6-4, 6-3, and No. 3 group Noelle Mueller and Sam Wood pulled out a 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) victory.

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The Jacks return to the court against Moorhead and Fergus Falls for a triangular starting at noon on Thursday, Sept. 29, in Fergus.

Bemidji 4, Staples-Motley 3

Singles

No. 1: Rutten (SM) def. Dondelinger, 6-1, 6-2

No. 2: Noska (SM) def. Glen, 6-4, 6-1

No. 3: Arenas (BHS) def. Kruchten, 3-6, 6-3, 10-5

No. 4: Digiovanni (SM) def. Eli. Peterson, 6-0, 6-3

Doubles

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No. 1: Neis/Jensen (BHS) def. Rollins/Erickson, 6-4, 6-1

No. 2: Midboe/Ele. Peterson (BHS) def. Perius/Zimmerman, 6-4, 6-3

No. 3: Mueller/Wood (BHS) def. Zimmerman/Holst, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9)

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Bemidji senior Noelle Mueller walks with her parents during a Senior Day ceremony prior to a match against Staples-Motley on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji senior Darby Neis shakes hands with head coach Kyle Fodness during a Senior Day ceremony prior to a match against Staples-Motley on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji seniors and their loved ones pose for a photo during a Senior Day ceremony prior to a match against Staples-Motley on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at the BHS tennis courts.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Christian Babcock is a sports reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer. He trekked to Bemidji from his hometown of Campbell, Calif., after graduating from the Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2021. Follow him on Twitter at @CB_Journalist for updates on the Lumberjacks and Beavers or to suggest your favorite local restaurant.
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