Farm Horizons, November 2009

Homegrown athletes

By Stephen Wiblemo
Sports Editor

The concept of hard-working, tough-nosed athletes from rural America has become somewhat of a cliché these days, and with that cliché has sprouted a number of stereotypes. Some of these stereotypes are true, but most do a grave injustice to the kids they represent.

Yes, these kids like putting their hands in the dirt and getting their faces a little muddy, as the cliché goes, and yes, the hard work they put in at their family farms often helps make them physically stronger, but that is where the comparisons end.

Some movies and television shows in popular culture like to paint these kids as corn-fed hicks, bred for strength, but not brains. They have names like Billy Ray and Bobby Sue, but these misrepresentations couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The reality is that these homegrown athletes from farms and rural communities across the country aren’t just strong, but smart, to boot. They might have to work harder in life than a kid that grows up in a metro area, and they probably don’t have as many resources, but that is why they learn to adapt, and become stronger physically, and mentally, in the long run.

Senior Mark Nowak, junior Jasper Asplin, and sophomore Kelsey Hartkopf are three such Dassel-Cokato student athletes.

All three of these kids have grown up on local farms, and all three find time to play in two sports or more while also going to school, and helping at home.

They and their coaches agree, it has given them a strong work ethic and determination that propels them to become better at their sports.

Nowak lives on a farm south of Dassel, and helps his father with things around the farm.

“It’s like a hobby farm,” he said. “My dad rents quite a bit, and then I just have to help him. We have a couple cattle, but it’s small.

“I do some digging in the fall and spring. After we combine, we go out and dig it. Sometimes I combine corn. I haven’t done beans yet; dad does those.”

Nowak plays football in the fall and basketball during the winter. He is also thinking about going out for track and field this spring.

Fall is the busiest time for him between school, football, and chores at home, but he finds a way to make it work, even if he has to get up early, while many of his classmates are probably still sleeping.

“With football, it is kind of hard with evening practice until 5 p.m., and then I have homework,” Nowak said. “I still go out and help him a little bit. Sometimes, in the mornings, I have to bring him out to the field.”

Nowak is proud of the work he does, and feels it helps him in other parts of his life, like sports and school.

“It gives you a lot of values, like hard work,” he said.

Asplin is another farming athlete, and he lives on the Asplin family farm south of Dassel.

“We have a family farm, the Asplin farm; that’s my dad’s farm,” he said. “We’ve probably been farming there for a couple generations.”

He, too, plays football and basketball, but he also plays baseball during the spring and summer. His is a good-size farm, and that keeps him busy.

“We have eight steers at our house, and what I usually do is bale hay and rock pick,” Asplin said. “I mainly do the manual labor, but I have been starting on the tractor now, and that is fun.

“I usually work on the weekends because of how busy I am during the weekdays with school and sports. Being in three sports, and summer baseball, takes up a lot of time.”

For Asplin, the best part about working on the farm is the quality time he gets with his family.

“I like spending time with my dad,” Asplin said. “That is our main time together, with my brothers.”

The work isn’t always fun, though, and he says that one of the jobs he likes the least is cleaning the corn out from the bottom of the silo bins.

“We have to do it manually with a tube, and that is the worst,” he said. “It is so hot.”

Even though he hates this part of the work, he puts up with it. This is the type of attitude that makes Asplin and Nowak great kids to have on a team, and DC head football coach Ryan Weinandt is well aware of that.

“They have a big-time work ethic,” Weinandt said. “Mark and Jasper are two of the hardest working guys on our team. And, there is just a sense that there is no excuses and no complaining.

“They are used to putting their nose to the grindstone and doing what is expected, and then some on top of that.”

Hartkopf is the youngest of the three farming athletes, but, is no different when it comes to what is expected of her at home, and the effort she puts out.

What is different is the work she does, and the type of farm she lives on – an elk farm south of Howard Lake.

“I have to feed them, and sometimes care for them by giving them shots and stuff like that,” she said. “Usually, I work at night, around 6 p.m. We’ll go out and feed them, and tend to whatever needs they have. It’s usually after practice.”

Hartkopf is another three-sport athlete. She plays volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring.

She loves the work she does at home, and also appreciates the values she learns.

“I like the experiences with animals,” she said. “Doing different stuff with them. Learning how to take care of them, and being responsible with them.”

Not only does she feel her work helps her physically, but it also helps her in another important aspect of life and sports.

“I think it helps with my strength. Carrying the feed around makes me stronger,” Hartkopf said. “It also helps my communication skills. Working with animals, you have to communicate a lot.”

Although Hartkopf is just a sophomore, and her full potential as an athlete is still developing, she is being noticed by coaches, including DC head volleyball coach Beth Flick.

After seeing Hartkopf’s tough work ethic coming into this season, Flick decided Hartkopf should be one of only four sophomores on the varsity roster.

“She played on the ninth-grade team last year, and the other sophomores that are playing with us were on the junior varsity team, so she has made a big jump,” Flick said. “It’s really her work ethic that caught my eye right away. We saw her do some things during the offseason, and the more I saw her, the more I felt we really needed her to be playing and practicing at the varsity level.”

Farm kids like these three are a credit to their schools, and lifestyle. While some stereotypes try to make them out to be something they aren’t, you won’t hear them complaining. They’ll just keep going to work every day, whether that be at school, in sports, or on the farm, knowing they are the true representation of rural athletes.

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