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Doug Wolter: Roger's back, and so is another winter season

When I walked through the doors of the old armory building in Worthington Wednesday afternoon, about 3:30 p.m., I saw ahead of me a whole bunch of Trojan gymnasts leaping in place to limber up for practice. Head coach Joni Reitmeier was seated ne...

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Volunteer coach and No. 1 fan Roger Geertsema poses with the Worthington Trojans gymnastics team prior to practice. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

When I walked through the doors of the old armory building in Worthington Wednesday afternoon, about 3:30 p.m., I saw ahead of me a whole bunch of Trojan gymnasts leaping in place to limber up for practice. Head coach Joni Reitmeier was seated nearby, next to her devoted associate, the inimitable Roger Geertsema.

I don’t know, exactly, how to describe Roger’s role with the team. He’s not technically an assistant (Junior Nguyen and Rachel Spartz fulfill those roles). I’d call him, instead, a helper, an ally. Many years ago (my, how time flies), Roger was my right-hand man in the Daily Globe sports department -- a dependable and thorough sports writer and friend.

I still remember one night after he returned from covering a local high school gymnastics meet. It was all he could talk about for days -- the athleticism, the gracefulness, the power of the routines. I thought it highly unusual. I mean, here was Roger, a block of granite -- an outstanding four-sport athlete in his younger days at Round Lake High School, where he graduated in 1962 as an All-State football player -- falling in love with gymnastics.

It wasn’t, as it turned out, a fleeting infatuation. Roger kept coming back to work and telling me all he’d been learning about the moves -- rolls and tucks, saltos and roundoffs -- and how it still fascinated him. He learned about the scoring system, which fascinated him even further.

While Roger was still working at the Globe, he naturally became our gymnastics expert. After he retired, even before Joni began her run as head coach, he was welcomed by the team as a helper -- a No. 1 fan, if you will. But more than that -- as a volunteer assistant. Better yet, as a favored uncle.

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He’s a fixture at the Trojans’ practices, and at their meets, too. When I go to cover the meets, Roger is always there, scribbling notes in a notebook and informing me about the progress of the scoring. His notes are a little hard for me to read because Roger suffered a stroke many years earlier, and he’s not as skillful with his fingers as he used to be. But any time I want to know what a Trojan gymnast’s routine is going to be, Roger is there to describe it before it happens.

Rog tells me that the 2017-18 WHS gym team is once again stocked with exceptional talent. It’s also a very deep team, in that more and more kids are coming out for the sport. I think I can expect, once again, that the Worthington junior varsity team will outscore a lot of varsity teams again this winter.

Joni’s varsity leapers and tumblers participated in a third consecutive state Class A team tournament at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Virtually everyone returns from that team, which edged longtime rival Jackson County Central 142.575 points to 142.5 for the Section 3A championship.

I think this is going to be another fun year for gymnastics. And I’m especially glad that Roger’s still around to explain to me the finer points.

Transitioning The winter high school sports season begins in stages. Girls hockey games have already started. Gymnastics, girls basketball and boys hockey practices started on Monday, the 13th. This coming Monday, boys basketball and wrestling teams begin working out in earnest.

Gotta say something here, however, about the Minnesota West basketball season which is well under way. The Lady Jays are 2-0, and the Bluejay men are 0-3.

We shouldn’t be at all surprised that the women’s team is off to a great start. The squad returns four very solid sophomores (Katherin Ihnen, Ashlynn Wabeke, Andrea Hinkeldey and Emily Haubrich) and a highly talented freshman, Hills-Beaver Creek graduate Avery Van Roekel. It’s risky to assume the Jays won’t run into a few challenges, however, because they’re still searching for a dependable point guard following the graduation of Taylor Noid.

I’m expecting head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka to develop a few gray hairs during the season due to the point guard situation. Tough for her, but not necessarily the fans. It makes for more interesting basketball.

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As far as the men go, I’m not overly concerned about their 0-3 start. Yes, they have a new coach (Aaron Poor Bear), yes, they lack height, and yes, they need to play better defense. But they are exciting to watch. There are several exceptional athletes on the team and it was clear at the very start that their athleticism isn’t wasted. Right from the very first game, the Bluejays showed they are capable of not only running up and down the floor, but finishing their shots.

It’s going to be a fun year.

As for the rest of the winter sports in The Globe coverage area, it’s going to be a fun year, too. Anything can happen.

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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