The year started out like any other year, but as we all know it turned out to be unlike any other year before.

Sports took a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, as high school sports were essentially shut down from mid-March until October – and then again in November.

JANUARY

The year started out fine, as Aitkin Gobbler Manny Ukutegbe scored a double-double with 27 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Hinckley-Finlayson.

Walker Jones picked up his 25th pin at the Big Bear Classic in Cass Lake, while the Aitkin Gobbler girls picked up their first win of the season with a 70-65 win over Ashby.

The boys lost in their annual hoops tourney in the title game by a score of 55-47, the McGregor Mercs boys beat Wrenshall 60-56 for one of their few wins of the season and Marshall Larson picked up his 25th pin and his 60th career win.

Later in the month, the Aitkin All-Starz completed a turbulent season by missing the state tournament, finishing sixth in both high kick and jazz in the Minnesota State High School League Section meet.

The Aitkin Gobbler boys beat Crosby-Ironton 72-58 and Caiden Kjelstrom, Jake Ince and Owen Miller did their dealing on the ice for the Northern Lakes Lightning.

FEBRUARY

Wrestler Marshall Larson continued to pile up the wins, gaining his 75th. Hailey Maas scored 39 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Mercs 64-19 win over Wrenshall.

The Mercs boys hit seven 3-pointers in the first half of a 76-47 win, while the Gobbler boys won a pair of games in the Virginia tourney. They went on to beat Pequot Lakes 62-56 – their first win over the Patriots since 2002.

The wrestlers finished second in the MSHSL Section team tournament, losing to Royalton 39-27 in the final. Carson Kullhem picked up his 50th pin while Nathan Rom got his 60th win. Larson and Jack Grell advanced to the State Tournament, where Larson finished third.

The month ended with the Gobbler girls beating Ogilvie, 78-65.

MARCH

The Aitkin Gobbler boys lost to Pequot Lakes in the Section tourney, while the Mercs lost to Upsala, ending their season.

Former Gobbler Noah Landrus lost his first match in UFC action at the Throwdown in A-Town, and the Aitkin curling team took over the top spot in the Brainerd League.

Gov. Tim Walz took over the rest of the sports month, shutting down all MSHSL activities from March 18-27, then closed the rest of the year, eliminating the rest of the basketball tournaments and spring sports on the whole.

APRIL

This month brought practically nothing as far as the sports world was concerned but Aitkin did find something to cheer about, the first lighting of the brand-new system at Woock Field.

Former Gobbler Jerry Holm was instrumental in getting the lights and getting them installed at the field.  The facility is one that should bring some Section play to the community, along with night games for the high school.

Jeremy Janzen, coach of the Gobblers was also a big part of getting the more than 60-year-old field lit. The field also enjoyed some improvements in the field itself and is now considered a top-notch venue.

MAY

Golf courses were allowed to open with some restrictions and the courses didn’t exactly look and act the same. Dave Sadlowsky, golf pro at Ruttgers, reported that activity was brisk and that golfers should look for a shorter golf hole with noodles placed inside.

Meanwhile, school activities remained on pause and even graduation had to be adjusted to stay within state guidelines.

JUNE

Aitkin Youth Softball was allowed to get its activities going for the summer. They play behind Rippleside, on a pair of fields that have been put together through volunteer work.

Sam Sadlowsky, meanwhile, was one of scores of Minnesota high school seniors to participate in the Minnesota PGA Senior Showcase June 9, tying for fourth after shooting a 1-under par at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids.

JULY

Events scheduled for the month of July were canceled, including the annual Fourth of July celebration.

The only thing that was allowed to take place was the 2020 tennis camp.

AUGUST

The Aitkin Gobbler tennis team started its season with a pair of losses, with Madi Lehrer picking up the only Gobbler win.

The young team struggled but worked hard and gained experience. Meanwhile the MSHSL decided to move football and volleyball to the spring, altering the spring sports as well. It was an idea that was not long for this world.

SEPTEMBER

The Aitkin All-Starz dance team got a new coach in Kaitlyn Wake, who will be assisted by Andrea Zasmeta.

Twenty-seven wiffleball teams played a tournament at “The Roost” with champs in four classes.

The MSHSL made the decision to move football and volleyball back to the fall with post-season in limbo. The month ended on a rainy Saturday as a nice crowd of family and friends celebrated the dedication of the Don Hagestuen Tennis Center. The long-time coach of the girls team died just a month later.

OCTOBER

Competition began for area football teams and the Aitkin Gobbler football team opened with an impressive win over Greenway, 38-0.

The McGregor Mercs team, which had limited numbers, opened its nine-man schedule with a 28-14 loss to Ogilvie. Tennis wrapped up its season, with coach Jen Waldorf seeing a lot of progress and experience gained over the season for her young team.

The Gobbler volleyball team opened with a win over Park Rapids and won two more to get off to a good start. Ally Ehnstrom reached the 1,000-set mark, joining her sister Taylor in that club.

The Mercs lost a couple of matches as they struggled to gain some confidence with their young squad and the Mercs football team lost to Cromwell/Wright.

“The Stump” stayed at home with the Gobblers after a 30-6 win at C-I, as the Gobblers’ balanced offensive attack and tough defense had them on track for a good season.

NOVEMBER

The month started off with the first Mercs’ football win, 53-28 over Isle with Drew Dean rushing for 255 yards.

They would also beat up on Ely 46-0 before ending the season abruptly due to COVID-19.

The virus would also hit the Gobbler volleyball team, as the varsity girls were in quarantine for a couple of weeks. During that time, the younger players split a pair of matches.

The All-Starz held tryouts in anticipation of the new season, and the Mercs volleyball team, behind new coach Becky Hagen, got its first win of the year over Silver Bay.

The Gobblers whipped Esko, 38-6, with Owen Miller gaining 138 yards on the ground. Hunter Hills was named the local Heisman High School Scholarship winner. The Gobblers beat Pine City in the season finale to gain the top seed in the Section tourney, and they were set to play in the Section final until state restrictions ended the football year one win short of their goal.They would have played Greenway.

Volleyball wrapped up with a 6-5 record with no Section tournament for them and the Mercs volleyball team didn’t get a lot of wins but gained a lot of experience going into 2021. There should be no more bad ball hops at Woock Field after a major field renovation to go along with the new lights and scoreboard.

DECEMBER

Owen Miller of Aitkin and Drew Dean of McGregor were named to the Minnesota State Football Coaches Academic All-State Team.

Later in the month, Dean was selected to the All-State team as a linebacker.

Schools got the word that they would be able to start winter sports practices Jan. 4 and begin competition Jan. 14.

Area activities directors were hard at work rescheduling games and meets as the new year approached.

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