Mid-tournament blizzard nearly strands teams for New Year's

The enormous annual holiday high school wrestling tournament in Fargo, N.D. -- the Rumble on the Red -- hosted a full 56 teams over the recent holiday break. Yet despite a host of tight finishes on the mat, the real excitement and drama came when the teams tried to leave.

According to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, teams and fans from the twin cities area spent as many as 9-10 hours trying to travel back across a route that traditionally takes only four to drive -- and were forced to stay in Fargo an extra night -- after a blizzard hit the area in the middle of the tournament.

The snow was so severe that all major roads out of Fargo were closed on Thursday, leaving the teams in the city overnight as they waited to learn if they would even be allowed to travel home on New Year's Eve.

"Our driver was convinced [buses] would not make it past a part of the road the traditionally drifts," New Prague (Minn.) High coach Greg Tikalsky told the Star-Tribune. "In the meantime, I spoke with [Albert Lea coach] Larry Goodnature at 9:30 a.m. who told me they were at one of the barricades to I-94 and he spoke with a state trooper who said they were going to open up I-94 for four hours beginning at 10:30. At that point we told all the wrestlers and parents to be ready."

The resulting convoy created a scene more akin to a military zone than high school sports. Some 17 vehicles from New Prague and twin city neighbors Hastings formed a caravan and inched their way back through the snow, eventually making it home in time to celebrate the arrival of the New Year with friends.

Amazingly, no teams reported any incidents when they were finally allowed to head home, though it goes without saying that coaches hoped the inherent threat of inclement weather in North Dakota during the winter months wouldn't be as severe in the future years.

Perhaps equally amazing, Tikalsky even used the snow delay as a way to plan more scrimmage time for his wrestlers if they were still stuck in Fargo, getting in touch with North Dakota State University, which agreed to scrimmage the high schoolers if the snow continued.

Eventually that wasn't needed, though the potential collegiate face off added even more color to a memorable holiday story for New Prague and other Minnesota and North Dakota schools, as Tikalsky told the Tribune.

"It is these sort of events that make high school memories," he said.

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