ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Elements of a tradition may change over time, but the general essence of an event can be carried forth year after year.
Such is the case of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association's "Tackle Cancer" All-Star Football Game in which 88 graduated high school seniors from across the state recently played at Husky Stadium on the campus of St. Cloud State.
The South All-Stars defeated the North All-Stars 21-10 with: a 16-yard pass from Mankato West's Ryan Schlichte to former Scarlets teammate Connor Watts; a 4-yard touchdown run by Schlichte; and a 35-yard TD run by Eden Prairie's Will Rains.
The game marks a transition for the participants, their final opportunity to take the field as high school players. For some, it's their last chance to be a teammate.
The on-field action capped a week of experiences that included practices and team outings like swimming at St. John's, a contest off a diving board, basketball games and a banquet the night before the game.
MFCA Executive Director Ron Stolski said it was a privilege to address the young men at the banquet.
"I said, 'In one sense, guys, this is the end of your beginning, and in the silent time, I want you to think about your beginning,' " Stolski explained. " 'In the other sense, it's the beginning of your end, and you've got a lot of getting and giving to give.'
"I encouraged them because you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give," Stolski continued. "I encouraged them to be a giver on their paths. It's an exciting time for them too. There's a little bit of nerves here, but that's just the way it is. When it's over, some will go on to play, some will go on to the service, some will go on to other paths in their lives, but they won't forget this one, the end of their beginning."
The Vikings have partnered with the MFCA for years and have plans in place to expand their commitment to youth football. Part of that expansion includes eventually hosting the Tackle Cancer All-Star Game at U.S. Bank Stadium, a state-of-the-art venue on track to open in July 2016.
"The Vikings have been very good to our coaches association. We have a number of initiatives," Stolski said. "This is one of the largest, but it's not the only one, and the fact that the Vikings are inviting us to be all-in, we're ready and raring to be all-in. We think it's a win-win for both entities, certainly the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, the communities, players, parents and supporters, but I think it's a win for the Vikes as well."
Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson said it will be another opportunity for the Vikings to support youth football, which has been a cornerstone of the Wilf family's ownership of the team.
"The Wilf family has really put an emphasis on youth football, and through that we've had just a wonderful relationship with the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, led by Coach Ron Stolski," Madson said. "Ron has been a wonderful mentor to me and whenever we want to grow our youth football effort, I ask him for ideas. He's just a wonderful man, as are all the coaches we've had a chance to work with."
Former players Tyrone Carter (South All-Stars) and Rickey Young (North All-Stars) served as celebrity guest coaches.
"Those guys are two of the most enthusiastic guys I know," Madson said. "Tyrone is working with youth and coaching at TC Elite Training, and Rickey, his athletic background speaks for itself. I think really what those guys bring is a love of the sport, and I think that's infectious and these kids are getting a chance to learn from the best."
Carter and Young said the experience revitalized memories from their younger days.
"It's awesome. I like having these kids get another game," Carter said. "They're seniors, they've got one more opportunity of a high school game to compete. It takes me back to my high school days, getting ready and anxious to go on that college campus to make my name mean something."
Young called it "a thrill" to participate.
"Looking at some of these kids, I feel like some of them should be in college for a couple of years, but it just reminds me of how exciting and how fun high school football really was," Young said. "Once you get past high school football, it's still fun, but not as much as in high school when you get to know everybody from all over the cities. Once you're in college, it's almost like being in the professional leagues because you've got to keep your scholarship."
Dave Fritze, who serves as director of the game, noted the relationships that players develop during the week.
"I think the biggest thing for the players is the friendships they make. They really do last a lifetime for many of them," Fritze said. "I coached in the game 30 years ago and am still in contact with some of the players that played in that game."
Fritze said the MFCA appreciated the participation of Carter and Young and values the support of the Vikings.
"Tyrone works with a lot of the high school athletes across the state. He works with some of the kids at East Ridge High School where I coach. He does a great job," Fritze said. "Having guys like Tyrone and Rickey here is just another example of support from the entire Vikings organization.
"We've had a really good relationship with the Vikings over the past years," Fritze added. "They sponsor our Mr. Football event and have been very giving. They're also helping us sponsor Tackle Cancer these last couple of years and this year even more than ever. We're hoping to grow that partnership so that we can together help the youth of Minnesota, through football, learn more about life and become better people for the rest of their lives."
42nd Annual MFCA Tackle Cancer All-Star Game
North – Derek Porozinski [Park Rapids] safety (tackled QB Ryan Schlichte in end zone) 5:46
South – Connor Watts [Mankato West] 16-yard pass from Ryan Schlichte [Mankato West]; (Patrick LaCorre [Edina] kick) 2:55
North – Ben Mezzenga [Totino-Grace] 21-yard pass from James Hendricks [Bemidji]; (Shane Zylstra [New London-Spicer] pass from Hendricks) 5:05
South – Schlichte [Mankato West] 4-yard run; (kick failed) 3:57
South – Will Rains [Eden Prairie] 35-yard run; (Robbie Grimsley [Hutchinson] pass from Schlichte) 2:19
MVP Offense, North: RB John Santiago [St. Francis]
MVP Defense, North: DL Derek Porozinski [Park Rapids]
MVP Offense, South: WR/PR Connor Watts [Mankato West]
MVP Defense, South: LB Jacob Johnson [Blue Earth Area]