Jim Kleinsasser's first taste of a varsity high school football game came as a freshman on kickoff team coverage. He remembers running downfield, not making any contact with anyone, then being met on the sideline by Carrington coach Marty Hochhalter.
"Marty ran onto the field and said, 'If I ever see you not hitting anybody like that again, you won't see the field again,' " Kleinsasser remembers. "I made sure I wasn't going to get yelled at for that again."
That was in the fall of 1991. The lesson was learned - Kleinsasser has been hitting ever since, at Carrington High School, at UND, and then for the Minnesota Vikings.
Jim Kleinsasser (left) signs a football for a fan before the annual UND Green-White scrimmage Saturday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. With Kleinsasser are Chris Kuper (center) and Weston Dressler (right). Photo courtesy of John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.
Kleinsasser retired in January after 13 seasons in the National Football League. His football career has been recognized by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association by his selection for the association's most prestigious award, the special achievement.
Joining Kleinsasser as winners of the NDAPSSA's special achievement award this year are longtime coaches Gene Roebuck of UND and Lake Region State; Tim Wynne, Grand Forks Red River High School girls tennis; Mike Forsberg, Bottineau girls basketball; and Randy Vigen, Central Valley football and athletic director.
Kleinsasser was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 1999 NFL draft. He spent all of his 13 seasons with the Vikings, finishing his career with 192 catches for 1,688 yards. In addition to his receiving skills, Kleinsasser was regarded as a punishing blocker from his tight-end position.
As a senior at Carrington High School, he was all-state in football and basketball and the state track and field champion in the shot put and discus, setting Class B state records in both events. From there, it was on to UND, where he was an All-America tight end as a junior and senior.
Kleinsasser won NDAPSSA awards as the state's male high school athlete of the year (1995) and the state's male college athlete of the year (1999). He and former Bismarck High and UND standout Weston Dressler are the only two to win both NDAPSSA male high school and college athlete of the year awards.
"You always have the dream when you're a kid of playing in the NFL," Kleinsasser said. "I didn't see it as maybe becoming a reality until my junior year in college.
"I was lucky. I had an amazing experience at UND. And the NFL was a huge part of my life. I have so many blessings from it."
Velva native Roebuck
had success in two sports
Roebuck retired from coaching this winter. He spent the past 25 seasons as head women's basketball coach, where his teams compiled a 628-145 record and, in the 1990s, won three NCAA Division II national titles.
In addition, Roebuck was UND's baseball coach for four seasons. In his final season, he led UND to a berth in the 1993 NCAA Division II World Series - the last time UND advanced to the national tournament.
Prior to his arrival at UND, Roebuck had an 89-13 record in three seasons as women's basketball coach at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, with his team qualifying for the national junior college basketball tournament all three seasons. He also won four state junior college baseball titles.
"All my life, I never liked to lose," said Roebuck, a graduate of Velva High School (1965) and Mayville State (1969), where he played basketball and baseball. "I hated to lose. That's what motivated me. And we had athletes who had the same mentality. It made coaching a lot easier. We had talented athletes, but we also had kids who out-worked other teams.
"When I got the basketball job at UND, the ultimate goal was to win a national championship. Then, when you win that first one, you wanted to keep it going. And making it to the college baseball world series - that might have been a bigger accomplishment than winning the basketball titles."
Forsberg's Braves only team to win three straight titles
Forsberg retired this winter after 34 years as a North Dakota high school basketball coach.
He had stops in Souris, Upham and Newburg before spending the last 21 years at Bottineau. He had a career 530-163 record in 27 seasons as a girls basketball coach and a 189-123 record in 14 seasons as a boys basketball coach.
Forsberg's greatest success was with the Bottineau girls basketball program. He took the team to eight Class B state tournaments, winning his first state title in 1999, then winning three straight state tournaments from 2006-08. Bottineau is the only program to win three consecutive Class B girls state championships.
"It was an unbelievable run," Forsberg said of the three-year title run. "At the time, I remember, you reminded yourself to sit back and appreciate how good this was.
"We just always had a lot of good athletes in our system, who really loved to play basketball. I just marvel at the talented kids we had playing for us through the years. They were so athletic and so dedicated - talk about being in a fortunate situation for a coach."
Forsberg was named Class B girls basketball coach of the year in 1996 and in 2006.
Vigen was one win shy of 200
Vigen resigned after the 2011 season with a 199-147 record. He spent all of his 37 seasons as a head coach at Central Valley.
His Valiants made 14 playoff appearances, winning the 9-man state title in 1999 and reaching the state semifinals in three other seasons. Vigen coached in seven North Dakota Shrine games, was Central Valley boys head basketball coach for seven seasons and the school's athletic director for 34 years.
Getting the 200th career win "would have been a nice milestone to have," Vigen said. "But more important to me than the won-loss record was the relationships you build with the players and other coaches and administrators. Being able to work with the young athletes was always more important to me than wins and losses."
Vigen was named North Dakota Class B athletic director of the year in 2001, and was the 1981 state 9-man football coach of the year.
Wynne's teams never lost
Wynne resigned in December from his position as head girls tennis coach at Grand Forks Red River High School. Wynne held the position for 10 seasons, a span in which the Roughriders not only won 10 straight state dual titles, but never lost a dual.
The Roughriders were 135-0 in duals under Wynne. His players won 10 state singles championships and eight titles in doubles. In all, he had 21 players as top-six placers at state tournaments in singles and/or doubles.
Most of those players, he also helped develop in his role as a tennis teaching professional in Grand Forks.
"The vast majority of the success I had had to do with the kids," Wynne said at the time of his resignation. "We had great kids at the top of our lineups, and we always had good depth.
"(The records and state titles) are something I can look back on and be proud of. But I never really got into records. And, as far as the agony of defeat, I don't know. I never felt that as a coach."
DeVillers is a reporter with the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.