On Oct. 1, 1948, the Monticello High School football team played its first game at a brand new field. Well, maybe.
Or maybe it was the first game of the 1954 season, or the 1955 season.
No one seems to know for sure. The Monticello Times archives confirm that the first game played under lights in Monticello football history was that Friday night in 1948, a loss to Cokato. But the article makes no mention of a new field, or stadium, just new lights.
One thing that is known, regardless of the exact start date, is that the current Monticello football field has seen a whole lot of football games, a number of great teams, and too many memorable players to count.
Another thing that’s known is that when Monti hosts Chisago Lakes this Friday night at 7 p.m., at what is now the Monticello Middle School, it will be Monticello’s final regular season varsity football game on that field.
The field has seen its share of history, growth, success, failure and change. It has hosted a state tournament game, conference championship tilts, homecoming festivities, marching band performances, winless seasons, and more. And it has served as a point of pride in the Monticello community for more than 60 years.
Dick Frie, who came to Monticello in 1955, one year after the current middle school opened as Monticello High School, served as athletic director for 23 years and holds a sharp memory of how much the football field meant to him and the town.
In his early days in town, the team would practice at a field by what is now the Fourth St. Park, as the varsity field was so new that Monti didn’t want to damage it. Frie, who was an assistant football coach to Bob Doty when he came to town, took over as athletic director in 1967 and made field maintenance a top priority.
“I worked with custodians in the summer, irrigating, mowing, fertilizing,” said Frie. “We were trying to turn it into the prized field that it was.”
One of the things that Frie remembers about the early days of the field is that Monti was one of the first schools around to use multiple colors when they painted the field, painting red lines around midfield. The grass, Frie said, was a thing of beauty.
“I wish I had that in my yard,” he remarked.
The quality of the field was such that Frie remembers officials telling him they’d never worked on a better field – and they worked college games on Saturdays.
“I was so proud of that fact,” he said.
The field looked a lot different back then. For starters, there was seating for maybe 100 to 200 people on the Monticello sideline and there was no seating on the visitor sideline. Eventually, during Frie’s tenure, bleachers would be added on both sides of the field. The trees behind the Monticello bench weren’t nearly as tall, but there were many more of them, as the woods hadn’t yet been cleared out. Former coach Dick Bakke, the winningest coach in program history (100-17-3), said he found out later in life that those woods might have helped Monti’s crowd get riled up for home games.
“Some extra curricular activities took place back there,” he said with a laugh.
Bakke, like Frie, remembers a gorgeous field, one that was unparalleled in the Wright County Conference.
“It was just a beautiful field,” he said. “It was always probably the best field we played on.”
And it was a field that saw the best of what Monti had to offer. The Magic were often spectacular during Bakke’s 13-year run as head coach, which begin in 1965. At one point during the late 1960s, Monti won 40 straight games, and 58 out of 59. That meant a home winning streak of approximately 20 games, certainly the longest in program history.
“It was pretty incredible what those kids did,” said Bakke.
The head coach, who took Monti to its first state tournament appearance in 1976 (where Monti lost in the semifinal round to eventual state champion Caledonia), has many fond memories of the football field. But one of the first that comes to mind doesn’t sound all that fond. Bakke remembers before a 1969 game the coaching staff had to go out onto the field with hand towels, soaking up water and wringing them out into buckets as they went.
“It was so terribly wet and muddy,” he said.
Others are much happier. The old ball coach recalls Buffalo saying goodbye to the Wright County Conference in 1968, because they didn’t think the competition was good enough. In a farewell matchup, Monti sent the Bison packing with a 40-6 victory.
“Our kids took that kind of personal,” said Bakke.
The biggest crowd that both Bakke and Frie remember seeing at a game came during a 1975 matchup with St. Michael. Trailing in the final minute of the game, Monti opened its bag of tricks and pulled out a game-winning touchdown.
Facing a 4th-and-10 situation with just 2 minutes remaining, Monti snapped the ball to quarterback Dean Kendall. The QB fired a pass to sophomore Mike Dick at the 25-yard line, good for a first down. But Monti wanted more. Dick whirled and lateralled the ball to wingback Gary Kjellberg who was trailing the play. Kjellberg took off down the sideline and into the end zone for the winning score.
The following week’s Monticello Times called the game, played in front of approximately 2,600 people, “perhaps the most exciting football game ever played at [Monticello’s field].”
“If you didn’t get to that game by 6:30, you were standing 10-deep behind the fence,” remembers Frie, adding that he doubts anyone there that night has since forgotten that play.
As the years went by, Monti put more and more time into the field. By the last decade of Frie’s tenure as AD he had one full-time employee dedicated completely to the field. It was something made possible by a school district that cared about the athletic department.
Frie said that Shelly Johnson, and all other superintendents he worked with, were terrific to him and Monticello’s teams.
“They were very supportive of athletics,” he said.
Several other great eras came and went during Monti’s time on the current football field. Before Bakke there were legendary coaches like Doty and Tom Kealy. There were many successful ones after Bakke as well, including Roger Rehkamp, Wayne Price and Mick Goudy, who headed the squad up from 1982-89. During that time, Monti made its second (and most recent) state tournament appearance. Through the 1980s, Goudy still recalls the home turf being one of the best fields around “because it was so well taken care of.”
The coach’s top memory is of the 1988 section championship game, where Monti defeated Hutchinson 9-7 to advance to the state tournament. The Redmen trailed 7-0 in the fourth quarter, but scored a touchdown to draw within one. The home team elected to go for two, however, and came up short. Defense and special teams would pick Monticello back up. After stopping Hutchinson, Monti moved the ball back down the field at the end of the game to set up a game-winning field goal that propelled Monti to state. The Redman would go on to lose to Lakeville in the only state tournament game played at Monticello’s field. Lakeville, quarterbacked by Jay Johnson (now the offensive coordinator for the University of Minnesota football team), would go on to win the state championship that year.
Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the program saw some lean years mixed in with the good. A move to the North Suburban Conference proved to be especially challenging on the football squad. There were still great players, and several really good teams, but also more down years than the program had grown accustomed to during the prior few decades. But recently, things have changed. Under Coach Jason Telecky, the Monticello football field has once again became the place to be on a Friday night. The Magic have won two straight division titles, and have went toe-to-toe with some of the state’s best teams.
Just last year, Monti played a game that will go down as one of the best in the field’s storied history. Facing off against the eventual Class 5A State Champions from St. Michael-Albertville, Monti went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with the Knights all the way into overtime, before succumbing by a 27-26 margin.
“That was everything a high school game could be,” said Telecky. “That was a lot of fun.”
That game joins a long list of games played on this field that will forever stick with Monticello football fans.
The list of coaches is almost as long.
The list of players is much, much longer. From Bruce Klatt (57 career touchdowns) to Jim Link, from Tim Juntunen, Pat Sawatzke, Tommy Johnson and Chad Pribyl to Roman Peloquin, Connor Olson and Ryder Beckman. From Mike Anderson and Ken Holker to Jeremy Hood and Greg Holker. The list goes on and on and on.
But above all else, what will stick with those that helped create so many of those memories is the atmosphere and the support that has always surrounded that beautiful, unique, aging football field.
“There was nobody left in town on a Friday night,” said Frie. “That’s where you were, you were at the football game.”
The support, the noise, the standing room only for big games, all holds true again today.
“It is unique because it is so tight and confined,” said Telecky. “It is an incredible atmosphere. That’s what I enjoy the most about it.”
Bakke said it is that support, and the memories that came with it, that he’ll always be thankful for.
“I have the fondest memories of that time,” he said. “I always considered myself very fortunate to coach in a great football town.”
When Monti shuts off the lights on Friday for what may be the last time (Monticello may host a postseason game, but that is still to be determined), they’ll be saying goodbye to a field that isn’t what it once was. And they’ll be moving into a new home stadium that Telecky believes will be top-of-the-line. But with that they’ll be charged with starting a new era, and trying to live up to the decades and decades of glory that the old ball field played host to.
“One thing that we’ll hopefully have is just as much tradition associated with [the new field] as the old field,” said Telecky. “That will be our job to make sure we carry it over.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]