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Column: In the front row

There’s still something special about Friday nights and high school football, at least when the weather cooperates.The band is playing, there’s anticipation in the air and in Ely - as well as most communities around the state - the stands are usually packed with fans.And while the hometown Timberwolves gear up for their next appearance under the lights, those who will follow in their footsteps are getting their first experience on the gridiron.Every Saturday morning this fall, Ely Head Coach Darren Visser, his staff and many of his players have led approximately 80 area youth through a flag football league.Kids from first through seventh grade take part and are divided into three separate age groups. And while the first 15 minutes or so of each session are devoted to fundamentals, Visser said he’s more concerned that those involved develop an interest in the game.“Our big thing is enthusiasm,” said Visser. “We just want to get them excited about playing football.”That approach seems to be working.One could stop by Ely School Stadium on Saturday mornings and see plenty of smiles - on the faces of both the participants and the Ely football players and coaches coordinating the games.In the past, Visser ran weeklong football fundamental clinics during October and wrapped it up with night games at the stadium.This time around, he ran a seven-week program that wrapped up on Saturday.“We set them up with some fundamentals and then we just let them play,” said Visser. “If you look at this year, when we had 16 eighth-grade kids come out, it looks like some of the stuff we’re doing with the youth is paying off.”• As Ely’s starting quarterback, Tim Scott is a key player in the Wolves’ offense.But it may be on defense where Scott has had the most impact this season.From the safety position, Scott has anchored the Ely defensive unit, coming up with a whopping 22 tackles, including 14 solo stops, in the Wolves’ Oct. 8 loss at Barnum.“He had just a phenomenal night,” said Visser. “So many people look at a safety having so many tackles, but it’s not like he’s making tackles five or six yards down the field. He’s making hits at the line of scrimmage. The funny thing that the Barnum coach said is that after he (Scott) came up to the line of scrimmage they tried to throw over them, but he gets back and tips a pass to (Steve) Milkovich for an interception.”Despite Ely’s sub-.500 record, Scott merits a strong look for all-area recognition.• It’s hard to believe that Deer River took a winless record into last Friday night’s game with the Wolves.From 1988 through 1999, the Warriors made 11 state tournament appearances in 12 seasons and many Ely fans remember a string of hotly-contested games between the two programs, including memorable playoff encounters in 1988 and 1996, both won by Deer River.The Warriors have been very competitive the last four seasons, but a drop-off in talent combined with a grueling schedule resulted in five straight losses this fall.It’s a good bet that if longtime coach Steve Ott remains at the helm, the Warriors will turn things around.• Jim Erzar, an Ely native and the head baseball coach at Deer River, is in his first year as Deer River’s athletic director. Erzar is also recognized as one of the top prep basketball officials in the state.• Lance Horvat of Ely has been named head coach of the high school girls hockey team at Moose Lake-Willow River.It’s the first head coaching job for Horvat, a 1994 Ely graduate and former Timberwolf hockey player, but he already has plenty of coaching experience.He most recently was an assistant coach in the Moose Lake-Willow River boys program and had previous assistant stints at Two Harbors and Chisholm. In college, he worked for St. Cloud State University Head Coach Craig Dahl.• Elyites Brittany Dusich and Julie Anderson are on the women’s cross country team at St. Thomas.Dusich is a junior on the Tommies’ varsity squad while Anderson, a first-year student at the St. Paul school, is on the junior varsity.Anderson placed 68th in a field of nearly 300 runners at the St. Olaf Invitational in September, completing a 6,000-meter course in 26:12.• Former Vermilion basketball star Ronald Hearns, son of boxing legend Thomas Hearns, improved to 4-0 in his professional boxing career with a unanimous decision win over Darren Floss. The fight was held Oct. 2 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, on the undercard of a nationally-televised fight featuring heavyweight contender Wladimir Klitschko.Young Hearns, who led Vermilion to the national tournament in 1999 and when on to play Division I college basketball at American University, won all four rounds against the overmatched Floss and scored a knockdown in the fourth.Hearns will fight again in November. In his corner is Emmanuel Steward, who trained his father and most recently worked with retired heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.• Believe it or not, it’s already basketball season at VCC.The men’s team, under the direction of 15th-year head coach Paul McDonald, opened practice Friday.The Ironmen are preparing for the annual alumni scrimmage, set for Nov. 13, and a season-opening tournament at the Vermilion gymnasium the weekend of Nov. 19-20.

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