Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels celebrate 30 years


A banner displaying 30 years of the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels sports cooperative hangs in the Moose Lake school gymnasium.

The Moose Lake athletes were in high spirits in 1983 after winning the 1981-82 Triple Crown state championships in girls volleyball, girls basketball and girls softball but the entire program was about to change.

The Willow River school had to find a different football program to join. The Askov School District, with whom the Willow River team had a cooperative football team, decided to join the Sandstone School District's athletic program.

"We were left out in the cold," said former coach Bob Paulson in a recent interview. "We talked to George Glum (the Willow River school superintendent) and asked what we were going to do. With 17 players on the football team, we could barely exist.

"Our only option was to play nine-man football. I said that I didn't want to."

Bob Youso, the athletic director for the Moose Lake School District, was called. That call resulted in a cooperative sports program that has lasted 30 years.

"We think that this is the longest lasting cooperative athletic program in the state," said Paulson.

After that initial call to Youso, a meeting was held between the superintendents, principals and coaches of the Moose Lake and Willow River schools in the fall of 1983.

"It was decided to form a cooperative sports program but with one change - to do all sports," said Paulson.

Head coach Youso traveled to Willow River and spoke to the athletes.

"The Moose Lake kids are no different than you," Paulson said he told the students. "'They put their pants on one leg at a time."

"In the fall of 1984, the kids (from the two schools) met each other for the football team," he added.

The team names, the Moose Lake Lakers and the Willow River Wildcats, were left to the past. A new name, logo and colors were chosen for the cooperative program.

"We had nothing to do with it, it was pretty much left up to the kids," said Paulson.

The name "Rebels" was chosen, along with the colors gray, red and white, and the Rebel flag became the symbol.

"The flag didn't last long," said Paulson. "Then they chose the Little General symbol. That didn't last long, either."

It was decided to play all of the football games on Willow River's field, and a rule was made to switch the boys and girls basketball games between the schools every two years. Baseball was played in Moose Lake and softball was played in Willow River. The cooperative program also included cross country, volleyball, golf and track. The hockey program was not included because players from other schools often join the team.

The new cooperative program went well.

"The first years went pretty good," said Paulson. "Football went great."

However, those feelings were not always shared by the adults.

"The kids got along great," Paulson recalled. "But the adults had issues. They felt they were losing their identity. They were no longer the Lakers or the Wildcats."

Youso was the head coach in football until he retired, said Paulson, who was the assistant coach. He moved up to coach the football team until he retired in 1995. Tim Watson was the boys basketball coach, and Youso coached girls basketball.

Mr. Kramer coached baseball, Chuck Swanson coached girls softball and Mike Vogel coached track, said Paulson.

Dave Louzek took Paulson's place after he retired, and he remains the athletic director for the Willow River School District.

"He started out as an assistant coach," Paulson said. "Eventually he got the head job, and the program took off from there.

"We won league championships. It wasn't until Dave took over that they went to state."

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the formation of the Rebels, a committee, with members from the two schools, the Willow River Commercial Club and the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, has planned anniversary recognition events.

An anniversary cake was served at a home volleyball game and at the first playoff football game, Rebel cookies were served at the home opener games for both boys and girls basketball, a trivia contest was held at both schools in December about the history of the Rebels cooperative, posters and banners have been created and hung at both schools by student activity groups, Bernick's Beverage and Vending made vinyl banners for each school that are hung in the gymnasiums, and Valley Printing printed an anniversary logo on the placemats at Gamper's Restaurant.

The committee met one last time on March 23 to plan anniversary recognitions at upcoming home openers for golf, baseball and softball, and at the track and field practice. The committee will hand out souvenir pencils to students and parents during the elementary track and field days at the two schools later this school year.

Paulson still has pleasant memories about those days when he coached at Willow River and about the cooperative sports program. Paulson is a Willow River native and still lives there.

"Once I started to coach, I didn't realize that my career in coaching would last 33 years," he said.

"I still see some of the kids that I had coached."


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