No bad blood in the ‘Battle of the Bens’Ben Hanson may don different school colors and sit on the opposite side of the bleachers, but the Esko junior is far from an enemy in Moose Lake- Willow River junior Ben Moonen’s mindset.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Ben Hanson may don different school colors and sit on the opposite side of the bleachers, but the Esko junior is far from an enemy in Moose Lake-
Willow River junior Ben Moonen’s mindset.
While their two small Polar League schools are arch rivals in sports, both Moonen and Hanson have developed a friendship through track and field over the past year that has actually made them both better runners.
“There is no rivalry at all,” Moonen said Wednesday morning. “You don’t always find people you can talk to. Ben is a very nice guy.”
Moonen said he and Hanson began chatting a year ago, when the pair of mid-distance speedsters crossed paths at a meet. Moonen explained they have raced four or five times since then and usually shake hands, hug and congratulate each other after each competition.
“We just met each other on the track,” Moonen said. “He has pushed me and I have pushed him. It’s helped a lot and dropped our times.”
Both Moonen and Hanson have been on their respective varsity teams since freshman year. While Moonen is primarily an 800-meter runner, Hanson excels in the 1,600. At last Wednesday’s Polar League meet in Barnum, Moonen was gunning for the Rebels’ school record, while Hanson was there to challenge him until the final leg of the race.
“He wanted me to get the record, too,” Moonen said. “I was six-hundredths away from it, but he was keeping my pace the whole time.”
Over their handful of races, Hanson admitted he has never edged Moonen on the track. To Hanson, though, that’s been beneficial.
“He definitely pushes me and helps me always better my time,” Hanson said. “He’s a really good runner. He has beaten me pretty much every time by one, two or three seconds.”
In Barnum last week, Moonen officially won the one-mile sprint in 4 minutes, 38.46 seconds, while Hanson followed at 4:41.51. Hanson said the race went well, as they chatted afterward like usual, caught up and even posed for a photo with one another.
“We haven’t exchanged numbers and I haven’t looked him up on Facebook or anything,” Hanson admitted with a chuckle, “but we always say hi, chat and talk about our times. I just try to run along with him.”
ML-WR Coach Tony Andres said that kind of relationship with opponents didn’t frequently exist when he ran competitively at Pierz High School, but he enjoys watching the pair of athletes interact.
“I enjoy watching sportsmanship like that,” Andres said. “Ben [Moonen] is the type of guy who is very open and friendly. He’s a strong runner, but Ben [Hanson] makes him work for it all the time.”
Andres said their neck-and-neck race last week was entertaining.
“Esko knew that Ben [Moonen] was going for the school record,” Andres recalled. “I heard them say Ben [Hanson] was going to get him going. He was right there with him until the last 200, I’d say.”
“They really battled each other,” Esko Coach Gary Beaudot added. “They’re talented runners and pretty good friends. It was fun to watch.”
Both Bens will take part in this week’s sub-sections, along with next week’s sections, likely qualifying. Moonen is hoping to return to state in the 800, while Hanson will be a probable contender in the 1,600.
Expect both to be cheering one another on.
“We don’t pay attention to the Esko, Moose Lake rivalry,” Hanson said. “It’s more like a friendly rivalry I’d say. He’s a pretty cool kid.”