Reader-selected top 10 sports stories of 2018 | Sports |

Northern State wrestling hung up these shoes belonging to Curtis LeMair, a freshman wrestler who died suddenly October 17, in the wrestling room. American News photo by Cuyler Meade

So this is the new year.

It’s that time that we look back on the big stories of the past 12 months. This time, we pawned the responsibility of picking the top 10 stories onto you, the readers, and, I’ve got to say, you did a heck of a job. Don’t tell anybody — they’ll be coming for mine.

Here are the stories receiving the most and highest-ranked votes from our readers in our highly unscientific poll. There are certainly more stories that deserve to be on this list — I’ll point out a few that very narrowly missed the cut and easily should’ve been up there in our “honorable mentions” section — but this is what we reported on that you guys thought the most of in 2018.

I kind of fell bad I keep saying it this way. “One shot away.” It’s not inaccurate, but it’s also misleading. One shot away from what? Everything, I guess, but the truth is the Wolves made history before that Darin Peterka would-be buzzer-beater shot was ever attempted. The team will go down in the annals of time pretty darn deep, and will only be lodged deeper in the hearts of Wolves fans and those of the men themselves.

The Wolves’ season was legendary. Most wins in collegiate state history. Tied for the most wins in a row in school history. Accolades uncountable. But to watch or listen to every game of that campaign, from the overtime exhibition near-upset of an Arizona State team (incidentally, my alma mater) to the steamrolling midseason run to the record-preserving loss to the unreasonably exciting semifinal victory to the perfect-except-for-the-final-score finale, I can’t overstate how special that five-month stretch was, and I was just watching and writing about it.

This would have been the first team national championship since before those players were born, and the first of the NCAA era. It was special for what it was, what it almost was and what it wasn’t.

But it was most special for the people who made it happen. In part, it was where they were from. I tweeted out during the Queens game the home states of each team’s starting five. Queens was all over. Northern was this region, without exception. And they were just good dudes.

Everyone always says this place is special. Northern State men’s basketball 2017-2018 is the perfect exemplar of both why and how.

Nate Thompson is another reason why Northern and Aberdeen are special. His profile was one of my personal favorites from the year, and I wrote about that in last week’s more personal retrospective. But there’s enough to say that I don’t need to repeat myself.

Why was this story about a 60-year-old Sisseton native with developmental disabilities so resonant? Probably because everyone loves a story about someone they know, and, in this community, everybody knows Nate, and Nate knows everybody.

On top of that, fiercely loyal and overwhelmingly joyful, Nate is everything any of us wish we could see in ourselves in about a hundred ways. It’s fun to get to know people like that more deeply, and this story did a tiny bit of that work.

If you ask me, and some people have (foolishly, as I’ve only been here a couple years), the Mount Rushmore of Northern State Sports could include a good number of different combinations of the three guys on the right. But there’s one Absolute Constant: Curt Fredrickson.

This guy not only coached Northern’s only team national titles (twice), not only holds records the likes of which you simply don’t hear in towns of this size, not only garnered accolades in more sports than most people can even remember, not only did it for just about ever, he did it all really, really well.

Fredrickson might have been on the surlier end of the continuum sometimes, and he had the tenure, the intelligence and the confidence to speak his mind when he felt he needed to, but he wasn’t cruel. He yelled, he worked his kids — and the officials — about as hard as anybody, but he got the best out of people.

In many ways, Fredrickson built what we know to be Northern State sports. He wasn’t alone, surely, but he did an awful lot of it. He’s still around, thank goodness, and his successor — a protege, incidentally, one of Fred’s former players, Paula Krueger — has been great for the continually building culture of Wolves country. But Northern has seen him prowling the southwest sideline at Wachs for decades upon decades, and it’s different with him seated courtside in the northwest corner. But it’s better for having had him here all that time.

Now-former, then-current Northern State wrestler Justice Horn came out as a gay man to his team a while ago. But he came out in the public eye in June, and he did so with remarkable candor.

Horn’s hope was and is to be a shining light and beacon of hope to those in his position. It’s possible to be who you are even if that’s different from who the people around you are. And it’s worth it to take the leap.

It’s hard to imagine that goal hasn’t been accomplished. We thank Justice for his courage and his desire to help others.

When I got to Aberdeen just a couple years ago, the chatter I heard was all about how nice it’d be for Northern State to get its own on-campus football stadium but how seemingly impossible that was.

It’s something folks had wanted for generations upon generations. It just wasn’t going to happen barring something truly incredible.

Well, the truly incredible has come to pass. Northern is getting the stadium. Pipe dreams do come true.

Aberdeen, as we explored ahead of the inaugural Expedition League season this summer, has long been a hotbed for great baseball, but for many years now, it’s been a dwindling pastime.

The Boys of Summer returned, however, to the Hub City this year in a big way, as the college wood-bat league Hotshots arrived in town for real.

The opening season wasn’t perfect, wins-and-losses-wise but it laid the foundation for a hopeful future.

The Aberdeen community — most particularly Northern State — was rocked in October when an apparent heart defect caused the unexpected death of a Northern State freshman wrestler, Curtis LeMair.

It turned out that Curtis, who’d only been in town for a little while, was the subject of enormous expectations and even bigger adoration. The kid could flat-out wrestle, and on top of that he was a phenomenal guy, with a smile that nobody could get out of their minds.

It’s tragic when any young person dies, but Curtis’s legacy seemed to outstrip his youth by a significant factor. Despite spending but a summer and part of fall in Aberdeen, he won’t soon be forgotten by this town.

It’s jarring for some to look at a football field and see just 18 boys on it already, but next year that number in some cases will shrink to 12, as the six-man variant of the gridiron game was approved by the powers that be for next season and the smallest nine-man class, Class 9B, was dissolved.

Some 9Bers will head to 9A, some will contract to the inaugural six-man class, and we’re still waiting to see in some cases who will do what. But whatever happens, football in this state has been changed for the foreseeable future.

There are few figures in Aberdeen sports more beloved than Bob Olson (we’ve mentioned several of those who are as-beloved here already), and when the former men’s basketball coach and athletic director suffered a stroke in August, it was a shock to this place.

Fortunately, our many thousands of prayers were heard and answered. Bob stabilized and is in recovery. He’s even been to several Northern State games, a heart-warming sight in spite of his obvious limitations following the traumatic event. The road to recovery is long, but if anybody can run it successful, Bob Olson is the man for the race.

It’s not often an area like ours sees something like this happen, and it’s less often a town like Britton does. It’s pretty spectacular when it does.

Dallas Goedert was drafted in the early second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of South Dakota State by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he catches passes from another regional legend, North Dakota State product Carson Wentz. The Eagles are headed to the playoffs to try to defend their Super Bowl crown this week, and Goedert is more than along for the ride. He’s a major contributor on the offense as a rookie. Pretty incredible.

Honorable Mentions

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