Fuller recognized as Wright County Athlete of the Year

They may have saved one of the best for last as the Wright County Athletes of the Year were honored at the 35th Wright County All-Sports Banquet on Saturday at the Montrose VFW.

Todd Fuller of Maple Lake, a three-time NCAA II wrestling champ and one of the most accomplished amateur athletes the county has ever produced, was recognized at what was billed as the last All-Sports Banquet.   Fuller and Sara Wolf of Delano were the center of attention as the county’s top male and female athletes for 2002.

Banquet coordinator Eddie Carver began the festivities by noting the names of banquet speakers over the years that included John Mariucci, Bill Brown, Gary Gaietti, Tony Oliva, Paul Giel, and Carl Eller.

Carver said that 58 “of the finest student athletes in Wright County” had been honored over the banquet’s 35-year history. Those on the list from Maple Lake in addition to Fuller are Steve Anderson in 1987, Tammy Bakeberg in 1993 and Dale Decker, who was honored as a Howard Lake/Waverly athlete in 1976.

Carver said that because the banquet’s sponsor, Montrose Softball, Inc. is dissolving, this would be the last banquet. But he expressed hopes that another organization in the county would take on the event and thanked all those who had been a part of the last 35 years.

“It has been a great run,” he said. “And for me, personally, a labor of love.”

Master of Ceremonies Dick Jonckowski, the voice of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and a featured banquet speaker for 26 years, noted the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia on Saturday morning, the events of 9/11, the impending war with Iraq, and said that finding humor in the world is important, now more than ever.

“You have to live every day and you have to laugh and if you do, life will be a lot more pleasant.”

Jonckowski underscored his point by incorporating Iraq into an evening of humor that drew nonstop laughter from the packed house. “I hear they took all the K-Marts and WalMarts out of Iraq,” Jonckowski said, “and put in Targets.”

Delano soccer and track coach, Mike Lindquist, spoke on behalf of Sara Wolf, and called her a true role model and unselfish team player. “She played at 110% every minute she was out there,” he said.

Wolf was a standout in high school in soccer, basketball and track, graduating with a 3.84 GPA. She is currently a starter as a freshman on the University of Minnesota/Morris soccer team. In addition to athletics, Sara was a 12-year 4-H member, camp counselor, 4-H ambassador, and a Wright County Fair princess.

A tearful Wolf thanked her family and friends for their support. “You can be certain this is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” she said.

Featured speaker Alan Merrick was a star player for the Minnesota Kicks soccer team and served for four years as head coach of the Minnesota Strikers. He noted Wolf’s accomplishments and asked those in attendance to do their best to support women’s athletics.

Turning to Fuller, Carver read portions of nominating letters from Maple Lake Activities Director Dave Schroeder, Superintendent Ken Engel, high school and Maple Lake Laker’s coach Gary Porter, North Dakota State baseball coach Mitch McLeod and NDSU wrestling coach Bucky Maughan. “Todd is a wrestling legend,” Maughan said. “He’s the smartest, toughest, and best looking guy to ever wear a Bison uniform. Just ask him.”

Lightning wrestling coach Bruce Bartels kept the laughter coming by poking fun at Fuller’s home town. He provided the crowd with a lesson in “MapleLakeese,” which he said pronounced ‘Maple Lake’ as one run-together word and ‘tree’ was how Maple Lakers pronounced the number ‘three.’

Bartels also had words of praise for Fuller’s parents, Dave and Kay, and their award winning son. “Todd is one heck of a wrestler and one heck of an athlete,” he said.

He noted Fuller’s accomplishment of 185 varsity wins, which included over 42 pins.  “You’re not finished when you’re defeated,” Bartels said. “You’re finished when you quit, and Todd never, ever quit.”

Fuller earned 14 high school letters in wrestling, baseball and football. In wrestling, he was a three-time conference champ, team MVP, and a four-time state competitor, placing third as a sophomore and junior and taking the state championship as a senior. He served as team captain, was an All-Conference selection five times, and was a six-year letter winner for a Lightning wrestling squad that won the conference championship three times.

In baseball, Fuller was a four-year letter winner and three-time All-Conference. As a senior, his team was district champion and region runner-up, while Fuller was chosen for the All-Region team and the Irish MVP.  In football, Fuller was a four-year letter winner, a two-year starting quarterback and defensive back, and All-Conference as a senior.

On a full scholarship at North Dakota State University, Fuller became a three-time NCAA Division II Wrestling champion and a three-time All American. As a senior, he was voted the NCAA Tournament MVP. He served as captain for two years, team MVP for three years, and was a four-year letter winner. In addition, Fuller is a three-year letter winner in baseball as a starting outfielder and pitcher. For his athletic success, he was voted the Associated Press North Dakota College Male Athlete of the Year for 2002.

Fuller was presented with a trophy as the male Wright County Athlete of the Year, a personalized athletic jacket, and other prizes that included a gift certificate to Applebees, an 8×10 photo from the banquet and a video of the program.

Trent Tucker, former basketball player for the Gophers, New York Knicks and World Champion Chicago Bulls, said that the contributions families make to the success of young athletes should not be forgotten.  “These two young people should be very thankful, not only for the support from their communities,” he said, “but also from their families and friends.”

And Tucker stressed the importance of attitude. “Don’t equate losing with failure,” he said. “Equate losing with learning how to win.”

The program closed with awards and words of praise for the 35 years of effort put into the annual banquet by Carver and his wife, Sandy.

Fuller also expressed hopes that the Wright County Athlete of the Year program would be continued and thanked his coaches and family for their support.

He will graduate this spring with a major in history education and a minor in physical education/health and is as yet undecided about his plans. But he does intend to play another season for the Maple Lake Lakers. And he also has another very large piece of hardware to remember his many seasons of athletic success at North Dakota State and Maple Lake High School.