The Whalan Scrubs took the gold medal at the recent Star of the North Games in Rochester. Pictured front row, left to right: Zach Lynd, Michael Drake, Justin Rasmussen, Joel Rollie, Matt McGrath. Second row, left to right: Coach Josh Rasmussen, Tim Knutson, David Haugerud, Josh Hagan, Aaron Thauwald, Jordan Pelzl, and Coach Matt Chambers.
This story has a classic movie line: a group of small town kids organize themselves into a select basketball team that goes on to win a state competition.So, in the Hollywood tradition of the classic kids-do-well movie genre, “Bad News Bears” starring Tatum O’Neal, meet the Whalan Scrubs starring - well, let’s see, ah - Joel, Michael, Zach, David, Justin, Matt, Josh, Jordan, Tim and Aaron. And, oh, you did read that right. It is the Whalan Scrubs!The Scrubs, a group of seventh-going-on-eighth grade basketball players from throughout the county, took the gold medal in the Star of the North Games, held June 27-29. The Scrubs defeated North Wind 13, a Rochester team, 58-47 in the championship game. The Whalan team went undefeated in the round robin tournament, beating teams from Paynesville, Minnewaska, Rochester and Byron over the three days.The possibility of forming a select basketball team was Justin Rasmussen’s idea. Justin, a 13 year old point guard, who played for the Rushford-Peterson Trojans’ seventh-grade team last year, was interested in forming an AAU team that would compete regionally. Justin got the idea for an AAU team from his brother Josh who played on a similar team made up of Rushford-Peterson and Winona Cotter players a few years ago. But instead of going to Winona to find teammates, Justin looked Westward for players he competed against during the school year. Justin first called Matt McGrath from Lanesboro to see if he was interested. He was, and, as they say, “the rest is history.”Justin and Matt created a list of players and the phone calls began. Three players from Kingsland, three players from Rushford-Peterson, three players from Lanesboro and one player from Fillmore Central. Unfortunately, the Scrubs were organized too late to compete in AAU tournaments this year, so the team set their sights on the Star of the North Games in Rochester. Starting in April, the Scrubs practiced once a week for ten weeks at the Lanesboro High School gym leading up to the tournament. They were coached initially by Mike Wilford, seventh grade coach at Lanesboro. But when Mike was unable to attend all of the games at the Star of the North Games, Justin’s older brother Josh and Matt Chambers, former basketball players from R-P, stepped in. The Scrubs seemed to get stronger and play better together with each successive game.“We set up a simple motion offense, with a few pick-and-rolls, and the kids adjusted well,” Josh said. The team dominated a few teams in the tournament, but ran into stiff competition on the way to the championship. Justin, Matt and Josh all agreed that the Byron team they played in the semi-finals was the toughest competition they faced in the tourney. “We had trouble handling their press,” Josh said. But the Scrubs prevailed 68-56. Scrubs? Whalan?So, how did this group of hoopsters come to be called the Scrubs?“We weren’t organized like other teams that had been together a long time,” Matt recalled. “So, Scrubs just seemed to fit.” He also believed that being named the “Scrubs” gave them a psychological edge in that other teams might not take them very seriously.And why Whalan?Well, the Whalan part was kind of accidental. On the form to register for the games, it asked for “city represented.” With 10 kids from four schools and six towns, Matt’s mother, Stephanie Jakim, who was registering the team, just put down Whalan because that’s where they lived. That’s how Whalan, population 68, got itself a basketball team. The team hopes to stay together to play in more tournaments as an AAU team this winter. And while they like playing basketball together, they also enjoy competing against each other for their respective schools.“We are all pretty competitive, and we’ll just have to stay focused,” Matt said about playing against his opponents-turned-friends next winter.“It’ll be kind of fun to play against them now” Justin added.When told the story of the Whalan Scrubs, Whalan Mayor Dean Hughes said, “Wow, that’s great!” Hughes was thrilled that the team adopted the town as their own, even if for only a weekend. The Mayor isn’t quite sure what accolades to bestow on the team: a ticker tape Standstill Parade; a special Scrubs exhibit at the museum; keys to the city. But no doubt this matter will be duly discussed at a future city council meeting.
Team members are (parents): Kingsland - Joel Rollie (Ellen & Myron), Josh Hagan (Jody & Bryan), Aaron Thauwald (Deb & Jeff); Rushford-Peterson - Zach Lynd (Carla & Dave), Jordan Pelzl (Lori & Terry), Justin Rasmussen (Deb & Mark); Lanesboro - Michael Drake (Sheila & Andy), Tim Knutson (Chris & John), Matt McGrath (Mike McGrath & Stephanie Jakim); Fillmore Central - David Haugerud (Kay & James).
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