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Esko Sports Alliance creates Hall of Fame

Athletes who have made the greatest contributions to Esko's reputation as a sports hotbed will soon be memorialized by the Esko Sports Alliance.

The Esko Sports Alliance Hall of Fame will open on the weekend of Feb. 17-18 with the induction of nine charter members.

"This has been in the planning stages for many months," said Sports Alliance President Steve Knutson, "and it's been talked about for years.

"We wanted to make sure our first-round selections met the highest standards and would help to set the bar for future candidates," Knutson said. "It took a lot of debate and deliberation, but I think we have an inaugural group that's truly worthy of hall of fame status."

The inductees or their representatives will be introduced at halftime of a 7 p.m. Esko-Two Harbors boys game on Friday, Feb. 17, and again at the half of a 1:30 p.m. Esko-Roseau girls game on Saturday, Feb. 18. The installation dinner is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo House Junction.

Project chairman Davis Helberg said that while the first-year selections were made by the Sports Alliance, future selections — starting next fall — will be based on a public nominations process. Copies of the by-laws are available at the high school athletic director's office.

Helberg said the project has been approved by the Esko School Board with the understanding that it is a separate entity from the school district, but may someday become part of an all-school hall of fame.

Besides Knutson and Helberg, members of the Sports Alliance board who made the first-year selections are Eric Rish, Russ Davidson, Scott Antonutti and Athletic Director Chad Stoskopf.

Following are the hall of fame's charter members:

• Les Knuti: Basketball coach 1934-1942, 1946-1953 (career record 200-55); founder of football program in 1946, coached until 1964, unbeaten in final 25 games (record 88-21-7); coined "Eskomos" nickname, helped found Polar League; athletic director 1934-1942, 1946-1970; member of Minnesota Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

• Walter Maunu: 1935 graduate; tied for state high jump championship in 1935, among first in Minnesota to high jump 6 feet, held school record for 45 years, often competed in six events in one meet; starred in basketball, including as center on FFA team that upset Harlem Globetrotters in 1938.

• Harold Bergstedt: 1955 graduate; led 1955 basketball team to school's first state tournament; still holds school record for points per game (26.6) and held boys career record (1,515) until 2014; also excelled in football and track; three-year starting center and forward in basketball at UMD.

• 1955 Basketball Team: First Carlton County team to win Region 7 championship; won state consolation title. Starters: Harold Bergstedt, Ron Korby, Don Terwey, Jerry Anderson, Ernie Bylkas. Reserves: Sherman Johnson, Dave Mattinen, Art Manisto, Ed Pantsar, Roger Pykkonen, Davis Helberg and Dan Bergstedt. Coaches: Coopen Johnson (member of Minnesota Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame) and Pat Churchill.

• Eleanor Randels: Joined faculty in 1965, founder of Esko's modern-day girls sports. Organized volleyball, basketball, softball and track teams; coached track team to state's first girls meet in 1973; coached basketball team to state's first girls tournament in 1976 (career record 63-18); retired from coaching in 1979.

• Darrell McKibbon: 1970 graduate; four-year starter at quarterback, set state record with 61 touchdown passes; 1969 Midwest All-American team and all-state, all-region selection; also played basketball and baseball; UMD quarterback for three seasons, including two conference championships.

• Anna Townsend (Tool): 1995 graduate; holds school basketball records in career points (1,966) and rebounds (1,324); led team to two state tournaments; Duluth News-Tribune Player of Year in both basketball and volleyball in 1995; played basketball and volleyball at Minnesota-Morris.

• Gina Perich (Zezulka): 1996 graduate; seven-time state champion in track (six in hurdles, one in long jump); accounted for 46 of team's 51 points when Esko won state championship in 1995; excelled in basketball for five years and a finalist for Miss Minnesota basketball in 1996; played in two state tournaments and was Duluth News-Tribune 1996 Player of Year.

• Michelle Maunu (Peterson): 2006 graduate; earned 20 school letters in four sports and competed in 12 state tournaments (five in golf, four in hockey, two in football, one in soccer); led Cloquet-Esko hockey team to runner-up at state and named to three all-state teams; Esko's first female football player, kicked winning field goal in 2004 section championship. Played hockey at Minnesota for four seasons, team captain as senior.

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Breakout box: IF YOU GO

Registration for the Hall of Fame dinner is requested by Wednesday, Feb. 15, by contacting the athletic director's office at cstoskopf30 p.m., preceded by a 6 p.m. social time.

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