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Bemidji High School graduate Gavin Kestner wins $100,000 scholarship in Dr Pepper football toss

Currently a freshman at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Gavin Kestner plans to transfer to North Dakota State University next month to pursue a degree in computer science with an emphasis on cybersecurity.

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Bemidji High School graduate Gavin Kestner competes in the Dr Pepper Tuition Toss during halftime at the 2022 ACC championship game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.
Jason Walle / AP Images for Dr Pepper
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Gavin Kestner did not play football for the Bemidji High School Lumberjacks, but his passing skills earned him $100,000 on Saturday night.

Kestner, a 2022 BHS graduate, won the tuition scholarship from Dr Pepper at halftime of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in Charlotte, N.C. Currently a freshman at Minnesota State University Moorhead, he plans to transfer to North Dakota State University next month to pursue a degree in computer science with an emphasis on cybersecurity.

Kestner competed against Althea Musakasa of Baylor University. They had 30 seconds to toss footballs into holes in giant Dr Pepper cans from 15 feet away. After falling behind halfway through the contest, Kestner rallied to claim the $100,000 first prize. Mukasaka earned $20,000 in the Dr Pepper Tuition Toss program.

Kestner said he found out about the Dr Pepper program this fall when he was surfing the internet looking for scholarship opportunities.

“Like everyone else I was worried about tuition for next year,” he said. “I got a few scholarships this year. I was able to pay most of it out of my pocket, but for next year I was a little worried.”

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Winning the competition certainly will ease his mind.

“I’m just really excited,” Kestner said, “because I know it’s normal for people to take out student loans and everything, but just the thought of having all that debt scared me. It’s a huge relief because I can focus on applying for internships, either paid or not paid, and just work on continuing my degree work and doing what I can to help me in my future.”

As part of the application process for the Dr Pepper program, Kestner needed to submit a short video describing how they would use the scholarship money. He had experience as a wedding videographer through his side business called Northwind Photo and Video, so he was able to use those skills in the video's production.

Kestner’s girlfriend Addy Kelly, who also graduated from BHS last spring, assisted with the video and also helped Gavin practice for the competition. She accompanied him to Charlotte.

“She’s my supporter, and she hyped me up,” Kestner said.

During a post-competition interview on the ABC broadcast, Kestner said, “This is just absolutely amazing. I just want to thank Dr Pepper first of all for this wonderful opportunity, my girlfriend, Addy, and most of all my family because they're my No. 1 supporters.”

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Gavin Kestner celebrates after winning the Dr Pepper Tuition Toss during halftime at the 2022 ACC championship game on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C.
Jason Walle / AP Images for Dr Pepper

After leaving the field, Kestner’s phone blew up with messages from friends and family.

“All my friends and family were freaking out,” he said. “ It was hard to pick who to respond to first.”

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Kestner’s football season isn’t over. As a trumpet player in the NDSU Marching Band, he’ll be on the field Friday night, Dec. 9, when the Bison host Samford in a national quarterfinal game at the Fargodome.

Since 2008, Dr Pepper has awarded more than $13 million in tuition.

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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