BLOOMING PRAIRIE — They arrived just before the second winter storm of the week, sirens blaring and voices raised as the Blooming Prairie High School football team turned down Main Street in the middle of a police and fire department escort. Players had left town hopeful earlier that morning and returned Class 1A State Tournament champions for the first time in the program’s history.
“They just passed Bixby,” neighbors called to neighbors, as the news made it down the line that the team was 10 minutes out. Car alarms sounded in celebration at Krejci Ford along Highway 218, echoed by the occasional honk further south on Main.
After a 41-15 upset over the No. 1 seed, BOLD High School, the formerly-No. 2 Awesome Blossoms found an evening welcome from family and community members ecstatic about the landmark victory. Following the motorcade through town, spectators rushed each other to the high school, filling both parking lots and the gymnasium in time for the players’ entrance.
“Celebrate this moment,” said Alison Mach, associate principal and activities director at the school, directing her comments to the players seated behind her. As the crowd cheered, she continued with another piece of advice. “I want to see you replicate this moment in other things that you do. Because, guess what? Now, we have winter sports.”
The audience — thoroughly packing the bleachers and also encircling the rest of the gymnasium — laughed along with the players. After saying that she had had a feeling this season was unique, Mach reminded the students that they were role models now and would be for many years, as the only state championship football team in the school’s history.
“You have a responsibility,” Mach told them.
She then welcomed up Blooming Prairie head coach Chad Gimbel, holding back tears as she explained to the crowd that the two of them go way back.
“You’re not going to find another coach as invested as he is,” said Mach. “[He puts in] hours and hours and hours”
Congratulating him on the win, she then handed Gimbel the microphone as the crowd rose for one of the night’s many standing ovations. The coach, who’s been with Blooming Prairie for over two decades, joked that coming up to the podium was the first time he had been nervous all day. Gesturing to the players on either side, he told those gathered, “This is why I wasn’t nervous.”
Gimbel praised the hard work of both the other coaches and the players, past and present. Since 2002, the program has always won at least one playoff game and Gimbel said he had told players from those rosters that they were helping pave the way for when the team would ultimately win it all.
“’You’re getting us one step closer to the state championship,’” he had explained to all the teams who made it close but not all the way.
On Friday, the work of those teams and of this year’s students paid off in the long-awaited championship. As for how Gimbel’s feeling after the historic achievement, he told the crowd, “Ask me tomorrow.”