John Millea should be driving somewhere.
After 20-plus years spent hauling himself from Minnesota town to Minnesota town, covering high school sports for the Star Tribune and now the Minnesota State High School League, he's found a season shut down by COVID-19 to be been boring, quiet, and stationary.
“It’s just strange to me, not getting in my car,” he says. “I don’t even know if I remember how to put gas in it by this point.”
A lot of Minnesotans feel the same way. They miss following their kids’ sports teams, shooting the shit at tournaments. It’s one of many, many voids opened up by the need to socially distance. So Millea came up with a plan: a high school sports bracket.
“I’m amazed this hasn’t been done before,” he says. “This is a constant topic of conversation in the high school sports world.”
We know every team has a name, but we also know some are more… special… than others.
The Aitkin Gobblers. The Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers. The Moorhead Spuds. The Edgerton Flying Dutchmen. The St. Paul Johnson Governors. The Chisholm Bluestreaks. The Lanesboro Burros. The Minnetonka Skippers. The Thief River Falls Prowlers. (The hell is a Prowler? That shit is WILD.)
But with a lot of sports fans out there with nothing else to do, we can finally decide which Minnesota team name beats all the rest. All the Tigers, Eagles, and Bears out there need not apply. This is the big leagues.
After narrowing down some 400 schools to the cream of the crop – 64 fine, weird, powerfully wonky names from four distinct regions of the state – Millea created a simple bracket and let Twitter do the rest. Winners would be determined by vote, and they would take all.
By Wednesday afternoon, he’d received 23,000 votes on this offhand idea, cast over the course of about two days. Hardcore fans would start massive campaigns to get their communities to vote. Hot takes would fly. Random Twitter users would ask if ESPN was going to get in on this, or what?
Voting in the MSHSL Nickname Contest begins in the #ThankARef bracket tomorrow. We will send out a reminder, but make sure you visit the Twitter page of @MSHSLjohn to cast your vote. #WinhawkProud#ThereCanOnlyBeOne#ThisIsAHighlanderReference#WeDidntWatchItEither pic.twitter.com/SjG3BhLwnV— Herky The Winhawk (@HerkyTheWinhawk) May 18, 2020
Thank you for putting this together. I’ve put more time into researching my picks than I ever have for March Madness. You’re doing great work here!— Mark Borene (@mborene) May 17, 2020
After some truly cutthroat competition, the Awesome Blossoms, the Burros, the Spuds, and, yes, the Prowlers are all looking like teams to beat. It’s been a heap of utterly wholesome and much needed fun, and Millea couldn’t be happier.
Well, that’s not strictly true. He would be happier if all the athletes out there could have their shots at victory, especially seniors, who were looking forward to their final season. He’d be happier if he were hopping in and out of his car again. Until that day arrives, this mascot fight is the best game in town.