In a small Iron Range town, the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blinks shut



I can still hear the tinny speakers perched above Tommy Koskela Memorial Field at my alma mater of Cherry High School. A cassette tape pulsates the floppy, weather-worn woofers, creating the approximate sound of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” This was the sound of Friday nights in the fall through my teen years, both as a junior varsity player and as a disaffected ex-athelete staffing the concession stands. On ’90s nights cold, colder or coldest we saw the last state ranked Cherry Tiger teams take on a spectrum of small schools that no longer exist.

Alas, no more.

This week, Cherry’s football coach announced they would be forfeiting the remainder of the season because they simply don’t have enough players to field a nine-man team. Between injuries and low numbers, the Tigers have been badly outmatched this season and rather than risk hurting the young players left on the roster, the school has decided to fold up the team for this year.

There’s an old joke at Cherry, probably elsewhere, too: the team hasn’t been the same since they switched to round hay bales. Indeed, Cherry is a bit of an Iron Range anomaly, a place just off the iron formation that became home to Finnish immigrants blacklisted from the mines for labor organizing. They retreated to Cherry and places like it to farm rough land. Indeed, for years the farm-raised boys of Cherry posed a formidable threat on the small-school circuit. But the bales are round now, lifted by tractors not teenagers.

To allow the school to celebrate homecoming, an alumni team will face the boys in a game of flag football in a couple weeks. My social media feed is awash with latter day incarnations of Uncle Rico, back for one more chance. I remember my short time on the team. The main reason I quit is because during my first and only year on the varsity team I could not muster tears when the team failed to make the playoffs. I saw young men weep as they probably never would again, but my emotions were drawn elsewhere, so elsewhere I went.

One more time, for the memories:


  1. Wow. BTW, that “round bale” theory is nothing short of brilliant. I would also add the invention of the mechanical rock picker. I grew up working in my mom and dad’s Minnesota small-town grocery store, but spent many a long week-end day helping my uncle pick rocks on his farm — pull the trailer up to a “hot spot” — stumble around in the black furrowed dirt, bend down, pick up basketball-size rocks, lug them on to trailer, fill up trailer, drive to rock pile, lug rocks out onto rock pile … repeat … all day …

  2. Mark Skalsky says

    I remember those days of yore.
    I graduated in 1981 an Cherry was always formidable in every sport!
    I wish Cherry High School the best, always!

  3. I too grew up with the roar of the crowd in the proud Cherry home stands. The energized cheers of the cheerleaders and the fans was never to be outdone. I can agree with the idea of the round hay bails but the broken spirit of the field was not due to strength but to sportsmanship and pride. The loss of a great coach to the politics of the school was shameful. Causing a true loss to the spirit of the boys. Not to be forgotten the never ending “that’s my boy” idealistic satisfaction former Cherry football players felt as their sons took their sons took the field. An unfair advantage was displayed to those boys as their fathers previously played the game with the coach and would later grab beers to discuss the game. This advantage kept many hard working good players warming the bench, a truly heartbreaking sight to those who knew the game, watched the practices and seen the bias advantages to a ‘Cherry’ name. Like in most small schools the ‘name’ makes the player over skill. Truly no place for a coach with no previous ties and the inability to be swayed.
    Don’t take this wrong, quite a few of the of the players with the ‘name’ became great players, some truly trying to live up to their name. Some breaking under the pressure.
    Fewer and fewer boys making it out to the field to play what became a losing game. Injuries becoming standard as eighth grade players were put up to varsity to fill the blanks. A sad truth of adult politics ruining the game!
    No longer about fun or the thrill of a win but only bodies to carry along the few ‘names’ that remained. The stands grew silent, cheerleading became a thing of the past and our football team lost. The loss is a great one, one in which will haunt the school and possibly never return but let’s put the blame where it belongs!

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