MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — 2017 was a big year for Minnesota sports. The Lynx won the WNBA Championship, the Twins made the playoffs, the Vikings won the NFC North and the Timberwolves added a star in Jimmy Butler.
But the best stories don’t always happen in the major leagues, and they don’t always happen on the field of play. Some of the best, most interesting and most inspiring Minnesota sports stories happen at the local high school, a park baseball diamond or even a local bar. Here are WCCO’s top off-the-field sports stories of 2017.
High school is that awkward time in everyone’s life when you just want to fit in. But given her size, Svea McNally doesn’t really have much of a choice.
McNally has dwarfism, but that doesn’t stop the 17-year-old junior at Breck from playing on the junior varsity hockey team.
Sometimes a person, and a family, just need a lift.
Sydney Scott and her family live in Pequot Lakes, where the town and the school have been very supportive.
Sydney’s uncle is the head basketball coach of the highly-successful St. Michael-Albertville girls’ basketball team, and they provided one big assist to Sydney’s family when they needed it most.
Winning the state hockey tournament is a big deal. In ’67 it changed the lives of a group of guys from the Iron Range. The Greenway Raiders won their first State Championship that year. The players, coaches and their families came together this year to reminisce and celebrate the historic win.
When Minnesota State University, Mankato played a baseball game at U.S. Bank Stadium in March, The starting pitcher for the Mavericks, Brody Rodning, dedicated the game to his No. 1 fan, for a very good reason.
Lives can change in a second. And for umpire Bill Szabo, that’s exactly what happened.
He loves to umpire games, but his schedule was interrupted one afternoon in Sept. 2016 when he was in a car accident on Interstate 35W. And it was a very serious one at that.
He was taken to a hospital, and his family flew in to say their goodbyes.
They were ready to take him off life support, but he decided to fight — and for a very good reason.
The day before his accident, the Szabos had officially adopted their granddaughter as their daughter.
It’s a scene that plays out in millions of homes every night.
Though family dinner at the Sherels house might be a bit more frenetic than most, with 4-year-old Valerie, 2-year-old Quinton, and twin 2-month-olds Cecilia and Lyla running the show. But you won’t find a man more grateful than Mike Sherels, to do something as simple as eat with his wife and children.
A Minnesota teen made history in April when she fought a competitive boxing match while wearing her hijab.
Amaiya Zafar, 16, has been boxing for almost four years, but she fought in her first competitive bout earlier this year, held at Richard Green Central Gym in Minneapolis.
Zafar fought to change USA Boxing’s rules dictating competitors could not cover their hair or wear long sleeves.
Lowell Thompson is 78 years old, he loves to run and he has very good reason to stay active in it at this time of his life. Last winter he found a race in North Korea.
In October 2016, Lowell Thompson lost his wife of 54 years, Barbara, to colon cancer. He got some advice.
“One thing they said is keep busy and socialize,” Thompson said.
For Lowell, much of the time has been spent doing what he loves. Competing. He’s a senior Olympic sprinter.
After being diagnosed with stage two heart failure, Kari Turkowski worked on her bucket list — one that included competing in an Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s right — even with her heart issues progressing.
Two members of the University of Minnesota track team are sharing their coming out story and their love for one another.
The two Gophers juniors wrote about their experience in an online publication dedicated to gay athletes. Their stories were first featured in “Outsports.com.” After coming out, they received hundreds of emails and messages, thanking them.
This was Jareth Loveberry’s first year at Canterbury Park, but he’s already getting a reputation — people at Canterbury talk about Jareth like he’s a natural.
Perhaps that’s because the dedication he shows to the work is driven by something very personal: A connection to a brother he hasn’t seen in nearly 13 years.
Thirty-year-old Mounds View High grad Mark Hamburger lives in his parents’ basement. He drives a 1989 wood paneled station wagon, which he named Hazel. And he frequently skateboards his commute to the ballpark.
He quotes Plato from memory, prefers not to carry a cell phone, and let’s not forget, his appearance – a personal style perhaps best described as hacky sack enthusiast.
In a sport that values conformity like few others, Hamburger is as unconventional as they come. A square peg in a game of round circles.
As kids, you come to the ball park to learn the game, and for some, to live the game.
See this game is capable of grabbing you and never letting go. That’s part of the charm of baseball.
And that’s why for some some, six-plus decades removed from little league, they still crave it. Not as a spectator, but a participant.
There was an amazing moment captured on video in August with the Gophers football team.
But it has to do mostly with what one player did off the field. Justin Juenemann got a big surprise when he found out he was getting a full scholarship for his senior year. But he’s never even played in a game.
When you think of pigeons, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not “world class athlete.”
But among a small group of people here in the Twin Cities, these birds simply inspire awe.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse team than the boys soccer team at North St. Paul High School.
The 22 kids on their roster come from 14 different countries on four different continents, speaking eight different languages.
Danny is the holder on extra points and field goals for the Moose Lake high school football team – even though he’s in a wheelchair, and paralyzed from the waist down.
His inspirational story reached many people across Minnesota – even some Vikings players, who saw Danny’s story and wanted to meet him.