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BLAST FROM THE PAST: Rademacher, Haar remembered; Darwin Busselman recognized

Submitted Photo Darwin Busselman pitches during a summer amateur baseball game in 1964.

WORTHINGTON -- As we approach the end of another high school fall sports season, it's time to "clean the cuff" on some recent topics that I have written about, have been thinking about, or have received information about.

First of all, a comment about this time of the year -- which is a "haven" for sports fans. The NFL is nearing midseason, the collegiate football picture is getting more and more cluttered, which makes it that much more interesting, and the high school football playoffs begin this week.

On top of that, the World Series is still taking center stage on the national sports scene, and at the area high school level, volleyball tournament action begins tonight and the sectional, state-qualifying, cross country meets are later this week.

It's an exciting time and the weather has been so ideal throughout the entire autumn, that it's going to be a "shock" when the fall season abrubtly ends for most area high school athletes by week's end -- and when the looming cold of the approaching winter begins to appear more frequently, more severely and for longer periods of time.

Oh, if the fall could only last.

Speaking of fall, I have been thinking of two stories to tell about two premier girl athletes that I was lucky enough to coach during the 1990s when each of them were standout performers for Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield High School, which had a 10-year existence from the fall of 1987 -- when the Twins won their first World Series -- until the spring of 1997.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a story about Jen Rademacher's recent induction into the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Athletic Hall of Fame. A three-year starter for the Bison's four-time NCAA Division II national champions, Rademacher played in all 128 games while playing for NDSU and achieved numerous individual honors as she continually worked hard and strived to help the Bison win.

In qualifying for and winning the national tournament all four years, NDSU compiled a perfect 32-0 record during Rademacher's junior season in 1994-1995.

Now as the president of the Minnesota Girls' Basketball Coaches Association (MGBCA), Rademacher has earned several sectional Coach-of-the-Year awards, as Robbinsdale Cooper's head girls' basketball coach. She has had lots of success as an athlete and as a coach.

Here's the story I want to tell about Rademacher:

Known as Jenni during her days as a HLOL junior high student in Okabena, Rademacher was far-and-away the premier girl athlete in a class that had many very good girl athletes. She had played Mites and Midgets baseball -- with the boys -- in Okabena's summer recreation program, and as she entered junior high, Jenni was the best volleyball, basketball and softball player.

As a physical education teacher at the HLOL junior high, I organized an annual P.E. cross country meet, involving every student. We had three sections of each grade and both individual and team awards were earned.

The meet was a successful venture, with varying degrees of interest and effort. But it was a great opportunity for those kids who had some distance-running ability.

Here's something I vividly remember about Rademacher, and something which I think helps explain why she was so successful later.

As I mentioned, Jen was the best all-around athlete. But, she was not the best girls' distance runner.

Three girls -- Danielle Henkels, Stefanie Johnson and Sara Heisinger -- were better.

So, what did Rademacher do during the cross country race?

Why, she tried her absolute best -- and finished fourth.

I'll never forget that.

Rather than make a "shambles" of the event and not try her best because she wasn't going to win, Jenni still went out and competed with everything she had and did the best she could, which in this case was finishing fourth.

As her future high school basketball coach, was I ever proud of Jenni and her effort in an eighth-grade physical education cross country race. She did the same in swimming and diving competitions, too. Jen always strived to do the best she could, even when she wasn't the best at that particular activity.

I point this out, because -- believe me -- I had many athletes before and since, who did not give it "their best shot." If they couldn't be first, they would jog at the back of the pack and then "brag" about how they didn't try.

Few of those non-effort participants ever played in a national tournament.

But, Jen Rademacher did. At a young age, she had a knack to always strive her hardest, whether she would win or not.

That was a knack that she never outgrew. Maybe, that's why Jen Rademacher won so often.

Sprinter Kelli Haar, what a CC leader 

Remembering that story about Rademacher, who graduated from HLOL in 1992, reminds me of another premier girl athlete who starred for the Silver Bullets a few years later.

Kelli Haar graduated in HLOL's final class in 1997, after excelling for coach Wayne Heisinger as a track sprinter for six seasons. As a seventh-grader in '92, Haar helped the Bullets win a Class A State True Team track and field championship. Then, over the next five springs, she was one of the fastest girls in the area, winning many dashes and anchoring lots of relay victories.

Haar also played basketball for me and was a tough-nosed defensive player who always had a great attitude and strived to help the team. She had an ability to keep her teammates loose with good-natured jabs or with sincere statements of truth, such as if a player air balled a free throw, Haar may say: "That's okay, Sue, everybody does that sometimes."

Haar could also keep a group focused, as she was always thinking about the team first.

In track, it was amazing to watch her go through her pre-race warm-up routine. She did it right.

Jogging, stretching, mixed running, mental focus, relaxation, quick steps -- you name it, she did it.

And she was good.

Haar also was a member of HLOL's cross country team for five years. Like Rademacher, she was not a great distance runner. But, Kelli Haar was a leader -- an outstanding leader.

Haar had some individual success in cross country as an eighth-grader and as a freshman in the '92 and '93 seasons. But, her biggest contributions to Silver Bullet cross country were during her senior season in the fall of '96 when HLOL had an outstanding eighth-grader in Jessica Zellar, two top-notch juniors in Danielle Damm and Amy Arndt, and several other good young runners.

Depending on the race, Haar was anywhere from fourth to sixth on the team in a given race. But no matter where she finished, Haar was always a positive supporter of all the other girls -- and was always a real leader in every practice.

After starting from scratch in 1991, HLOL earned a second-place Section 3A finish in 1996 and qualified for the state meet, placing ninth out of 16 teams.

Senior captain Kelli Haar was never the team's lead runner, but she was certainly one of the team's most important members.

Lake Wilson's Darwin Busselman honored after 42 years, 535 baseball wins at Prior Lake

This summer, I received an informational flyer from Dennis Miller of Fulda telling about the recent "Buff Night" held in Prior Lake.

Darwin "Buff" Busselman, a 1964 graduate of Lake Wilson High School, was honored for his outstanding career as Prior Lake's head baseball coach for an amazing 42 seasons, from 1969-2010. During that span, Busselman's teams won 535 games, while losing 335 times, for a winning percentage of .615.

Among the players that Busselman coached were his own sons Dave and Paul, along with Harmon Killebrew's sons Kyle and Kam.

Busselman was a three-sport standout at Lake Wilson, excelling in football (five letters, three-time All Tri-County Conference, all-state selection as a senior quarterback in 1963), basketball (four letters, two-time all-conference, 1,186 career points, Daily Globe's 1960s All-Decade team member) and baseball (six letters, four-time all-conference, career .434 hitter).

After his amazing career as a Raider, Busselman went to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he lettered four years in baseball and three in football.

Busselman landed a teaching and coaching position in Prior Lake in the fall of 1968, where he taught algebra and higher mathematics courses for 36 years. He was the Lakers' head football coach for 13 campaigns, '68-80, compiling a 57-52 overall record, while winning three Missota Conference titles.

After several seasons away from the gridirion when his family was growing up, Busselman returned as an assistant varsity football coach in 1988, working for 19 seasons through the fall of 2006, giving him a total of 32 years with the Lakers' football program.

In baseball, Busselman coached 26 Lions All-Stars, including his youngest son Paul -- who was the winning pitcher in the 2004 All-Star Game, before helping Ridgewater (Willmar) Community College capture second place in the 2005 NJCAA national tournament.

Busselman's oldest son Dave was an outstanding football player as a running back and linebacker at Prior Lake, before playing defensive end for St. Olaf College.

Busselman's daughter, Jessica, placed fourth in the Class AA discus throw as a senior in 1998, throwing the platter 132 feet. She later was a track and field captain at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

As a high school baseball coach in Minnesota, Busselman's 535 wins ranks him fourth all-time.

"We had a lot of great kids, who really played well for us," summed up Busselman, who was inducted into Prior Lake's Hall of Fame on August 5. "We always faced some real strong competition like Eden Prairie and New Ulm in the sectional tournaments."

Busselman's teams won the Missota Conference baseball championships an amazing 22 times -- more often than not -- and he was named the conference baseball Coach of the Year 11 times.

He was the regional Coach of the Year in 1984 and was a Dick Siebert Award Winner in 2006. Busselman was elected to the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches' Hall of Fame in 2007.

So, without question, years after leaving the halls of Lake Wilson High School, Darwin "Buff" Busselman had a fabulous long-term teaching and coaching career at Prior Lake.

As the bottom line -- in the information flyer which Miller sent to me -- says:

"Coach Busselman had a positive influence on these players both on and off the field."

Congratulations, "Buff," you have represented southwestern Minnesota well in your educational career.