Duluth Chamber’s Ross wins Solon Leadership Award

Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Ross was presented the Sam Solon Leadership Award on Thursday at a legislative breakfast that capped the annual two-day Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol lobbying event.

Ross joined the Duluth Chamber of Commerce in August 1997. (2008 file / News Tribune)

The award is named for the late lawmaker from Duluth. His widow, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, made the presentation at the Crowne Plaza St. Paul Riverfront hotel, lauding Ross’ tireless support of Duluth, his cheerleading for the community and his infamous speaker introductions.

“It takes a community of citizen leaders working together to make our community a great place,” Prettner Solon said. “We are fortunate to have people like David fighting for the city of Duluth.”

Ross, a Duluth native and 1974 East High School graduate, joined the Chamber in August 1997 and has worked closely with area business leaders and elected officials on lobbying efforts at the Capitol for the past 15 of the city and county’s 16 total years.

Still, the honor came as a surprise.

“I know Yvonne Prettner Solon keeps it very much within her area of decision-making, so the fact that it would be a surprise to someone made perfect sense to me,” Ross said. “There’s many people that could have received this.”

To Ross’ colleagues, the choice made sense.

“When people are bestowed that award, it’s a lot of times for everything that happens publicly. But with his history with Yvonne and Sam, it’s a lot more from his heart,” said Linda Kratt, the Chamber’s director of events and retention. “It’s great to work with a leader like that. I just think it’s fitting.”

Duluth-area leaders bring a message of thanks to Capitol

Members of the Duluth East High School Jazz Band perform during a rally at the rotunda inside the Capitol building in St. Paul on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Andrew Zimmerman is seen in the foreground. (Chuck Frederick / cfrederick@duluthnews.com)

ST. PAUL — Previous years’ visits to the state Capitol by Northeastern Minnesota community leaders included requests to fund projects such as an airport terminal, a hockey arena, an intermodal transportation hub and wastewater treatment.

This year, the message was one of thanks.

An estimated 500 business leaders, local elected officials and students participated in the 16th annual Duluth & St. Louis County Days at the Capitol event that included meeting with state lawmakers, a rally at the rotunda and a reception of Duluth and county exhibitors at the Crowne Plaza St. Paul Riverfront hotel. A legislative breakfast with an address from Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled for this morning at the hotel.

Participation numbers took a hit at the 2012 event because of a statewide snowstorm. The Duluth Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event often referred to as “Duluth Days,” was pleased with the rebound this year.

“I would say we have surpassed the energy of past years,” said David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Chamber.

“The final indicator will be how many people we have at our legislative Grand Reception,” which was set for later Wednesday evening. “Every indication is that it’s going to be a banner year.”

The thank-yous were extended for Dayton and the Legislature’s quick action in the days that followed flooding in Northeastern Minnesota last June.

“They came in and supported our community when we needed it most,” said Dan Hartman, a Duluth city councilor. “Everyone who lives in Duluth knows how much that impacted our community.”

There also was a chance to meet the newest members of the Legislature, which Hartman hopes will help come budget time.

“We’ve been asking for years for a proper balance of the budget, and they’re trying to figure that out,” he said. “Part of that process is they’re going to extend the sales tax and possibly some services, maybe some clothing; we’ll see. For what’s been projected already in the governor’s budget, if that were to pass, would give $6 (million) to $8 million of new revenue to the city.”

The city’s lawsuit with Fond-du-Luth Casino over annual payments that once went to street repairs has left a pothole-sized gap in funding.

“We’ve lost $6 million a year,” Hartman said. “If this (budget) were to pass, we’d have money for streets again.”

And Hartman doesn’t want lawmakers to forget about Local Government Aid, which has decreased in recent years.

“It’s 40 percent, almost, of our entire revenue,” he said. “Any hit to that is a major hit to our community.”

Other topics mentioned at the Capitol on Wednesday were the ever-rising cost of tuition in higher education — students from the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica attended — and mass transit, specifically the Northern Lights Express passenger train between the Twin Cities and Duluth.

Progress in the NLX project hinges on rail authorization and money made available by the federal government.

“That’s going to be, no doubt, a debate in Congress this year,” said Jeff Anderson, a former Duluth city councilor now working as district director for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn. Anderson said he was at the Capitol on Wednesday as a citizen. “Where it goes, I don’t know. But Congressman Nolan is very supportive of the Northern Lights Express.”

Before the annual visits to the Capitol, lawmakers stormed Duluth by the busloads for first-class treatment and pampering by city leaders hoping for generous state funding. Ethics regulations put a stop to such practices.

‘Trailer Park Boys’ star talks Duluth, NHL lockout, Colorado and Washington marijuana laws

From left: Julian (John Paul Tremblay), Bubbles (Mike Smith) and Ricky (Robb Wells) are the Trailer Park Boys. (Courtesy of Sonic Entertainment Group)

Duluth will catch a whiff of Sunnyvale today when the cast of the hit Canadian TV show “Trailer Park Boys” makes a stop on the “Dear Santa Claus, Go (bleep) Yourself” tour.

The mockumentary-style show, which aired on Canadian television from 2001 to 2007 and spawned two movies in recent years, follows the lives of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, three foul-mouthed, booze- and drug-filled underachievers who have a tough time avoiding jail. Most of the show takes place inside the confines of Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

After a successful run as Showcase TV’s highest-rated program, “Trailer Park Boys” continued to grow a devoted worldwide cult following through DVD sales, Netflix instant streaming and airing in 15 countries. Shooting for a third film begins in March.

Joining Ricky (Robb Wells), Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and Bubbles (Mike Smith) onstage for the show at DECC Symphony Hall are park supervisor Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth) and assistant Randy (Patrick Roach).

Wells spoke with the DNT this week about the tour, show, trailer parks in Duluth, the NHL lockout; Colorado and Washington voting to legalize marijuana, and just what makes these guys so lovable.

DNT: When did you first realize that “Trailer Park Boys” was a phenomenon and pretty big deal to people?

Robb Wells: We’re still starting to realize it, I guess. It’s always been big in Canada, obviously, but it seemed like it just went a little slower across the border in the U.S. Now with Netflix, it’s really, really picked up a lot of steam; it’s big over in Europe and England, Ireland, Scotland. We’ve been to Australia and New Zealand. It really is phenomenal; it’s crazy. We had no idea that it would ever get this big.

DNT: When you first got into the show, was it a year-by-year, season-by-season deal?

RW: Originally, it was only supposed to be a six-episode miniseries kind of a thing. The response was really, really great, and we need another season right away before the first one even aired. As it gets selected to do more and more, trying to keep everyone together has been a challenge, to say the least.

DNT: Every time I watch the show, it seems that a lot of it is improvised. What gives it that real feel or that authenticity is some of the motions that the characters make or if somebody drops something, it looks so unintentional.

RW: Everything’s fully scripted, but we always improvise based on the script, on the vague kind of things. We’ll shoot some scripted takes then we’ll play around a little bit. That’s why it has a more real feel to it. That’s the whole intention of trying to make it as much like reality TV mockumentary as we can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We definitely play around with pretty much every scene, based on the script.

DNT: The Duluth area does have a few trailer parks. What advice would you have for their park supervisors on making improvements?

RW: (laughs) Well, I’m not sure how the parks are there, but if they’re anything like Sunnyvale with Mr. Lahey, try to keep them under control. But it’s all about having fun. Make it as fun as you can, and people get along more for some reason.

DNT: Out of all of the park supervisors Sunnyvale has had, who was the best?

RW: Well, I can’t say me, I guess. I think Lahey’s a good supervisor. If he stayed off the alcohol and just minded his own business more, the whole community would get along better and there wouldn’t be so much trouble with police around. Randy was a lot easier going, so maybe Randy would be the best one.

DNT: Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana. Would Ricky (known marijuana smoker and grower) consider moving south of the border?

RW: It’s good to know he can’t get in trouble or get busted, but with it being legalized there’d be a lot more of it around, so it’d be hard for him to make a living. I guess his stuff is supposedly the best; it probably would be a good place for him to go live and find some good clients and make a living and not worry about going to jail again.

DNT: What do you think about the NHL lockout?

RW: I’m a huge hockey fan (don’t get him started on his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs) and it’s very disappointing. Last week it looked like they were making some ground, like they were going to resolve it. Now it’s worse than ever, I guess. I really don’t think we’re going to see a season this year, unfortunately, and it’s really sad for all those fans and all the players as well. It’s very unfortunate.

DNT: Have you been to Minnesota before?

RW: Yeah, I have a few times; it’s very pretty.

DNT: How has the tour gone?

RW: The strange thing about the show is the demographic is anywhere from teenagers up to senior citizens. It’s a very diverse crowd, which is nice. It’s nice to have all five of us (cast members) for a change. There’s something in the show for everybody.

DNT: What makes these guys so beloved? They do some horrible things, but they’re so endearing. What is the quality that makes that so?

RW: When we’re writing, the one thing is that because these characters are so crazy — there’s guns and dope and so much swearing involved — we have to have a lot of heart. We try to keep as much heart as we can, with family and friends and just love. Although these characters are crazy and out of control, they’d do anything for their family and friends. I think that’s what redeems them in all of the craziness.

IF YOU GO

What: “Trailer Park Boys: Dear Santa, Go (bleep) Yourself”
When: 8 p.m. today (doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: DECC Symphony Hall
Tickets: $36.50 and $42, ticketmaster.com and DECC box office

This Q&A originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

Duluth gets $285,000 grant to assist Georgia-Pacific workers; offer for plant site rejected

Duluth Mayor Don Ness said Georgia-Pacific has hindered the city’s efforts to find a new occupant for the company’s hardboard plant that closed earlier this year.

Dwight Wickstrom, 56, of Esko, who worked at Georgia-Pacific for 37 years as a maintenance planner, describes how much he appreciates the opportunity to be retrained thanks to a $285,000 grant by the state of Minnesota to Duluth Workforce Development. Wickstrom and other workers attended a news conference at City Hall on Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, along with Mayor Don Ness (not pictured) and Don Hoag (center), manager of Duluth Workforce Development. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

The comments came during a news conference to announce a state grant the city received to help displaced workers of the shuttered facility. The $285,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will help the city and Duluth Workforce Development provide professional re-employment assistance for up to 80 of the 141 workers who lost their jobs when the plant began its shutdown in August and want to return to the workforce.

Ness said a “local company” made an offer to buy the plant.

“We’ve been discouraged with some of the lack of cooperation that we’ve seen from GP. I know that the employees are discouraged on that front as well,” Ness said. “And if GP has closed the door in operating on that site, well then we want to shift our focus and encourage them to allow somebody else to come in and use that site to put it to productive use.”

Anna Umphress, a spokeswoman at Georgia-Pacific’s headquarters in Atlanta, told the News Tribune today that the company rejected the local offer to buy the plant.

“GP has discontinued talks with the local group. The offer we received was well below the value of the property,” Umphress said. She and Ness didn’t name the company involved. “We understand the city’s interest in finding an owner. We are in discussions in other parties.”

The Duluth plant made a thin hardboard product called Superwood that’s widely used in the auto industry for interior parts like visors, door inserts, rear shelves and spare-tire parts. It opened in 1948 as a locally owned Superwood Corp. Georgia-Pacific bought the company in 1987. Koch Industries became its parent company in 2005.

Georgia-Pacific decided to close the plant to “optimize” business based on its long-term product strategy, company spokesman Eric Abercrombie said in August. The Duluth operations closed Oct. 19.

The plant’s manufacturing has since been shifted to Georgia-Pacific’s other facilities.

“The equipment and the plant that’s in place could be used for a similar operation,” Ness said.

In October, Umphress said Georgia-Pacific won’t sell to a similar company.

“We made it very clear we would not be willing to sell the plant to a competitor,” she said.

Ness said Georgia-Pacific should realize the impact its decision to close the plant has had on the Duluth community and what a once-again-productive site would mean.

“The more conditions that GP puts on its sale, the more difficult it is to put it to productive use,” he said. “So, we’re encouraging GP to have as few restrictions as possible so that we can get it into the hands of an owner who wants to operate it, who wants to put this equipment to its intended purpose and can put people back to work.”

Bill Drallmeier, a former driver who worked at the Duluth plant for 25 years, said he was surprised by the closing despite noticing a difference in operations about six to nine months before the plant closed.

“We saw a change happening in the quality, the style of the board,” the 56-year-old Superior man said today. “They weren’t replacing things. Doors that were breaking, they weren’t replacing, so we had a hint. You always heard it’s a 50-year-old plant. You always hear they’re going to shut the doors. You talk to the guys who have been there 30 years say, ‘I’ve heard that since we got here.’ ”

Dennis McCort, 61, of Duluth, another former driver who worked at the plant for 25 years, said workers began to wonder if the plant was going to close based on the reduction of orders.

“I think that the company was saying that we couldn’t produce the board properly, which we could. And we would cut back on orders and then cut down our days,” said McCort, who hopes with retraining he can work for five more years instead of retiring at age 62 with a smaller pension. “We were off for a week a month for a while then they said, ‘Well, you can’t keep up with what the orders are.’

“Well, yeah, we were down for eight days a month. You kind of knew it was coming, but just kept hoping in the background maybe not.”

The company gave its laid-off workers a severance package, though it was not required in their union contract. For the first 15 years of service, the company is giving workers 20 hours of pay for each year worked. Those with 16 to 26 or more years with the company also get a full week’s pay for each of those added years worked, up to 26 years, Drallmeier said in October.

Under federal law for a plant closure involving more than 100 workers, the company also must compensate employees with two months of pay, whether they work it or not, starting with the Aug. 21 plant closure announcement, Drallmeier said. But the eight weeks of pay is being subtracted from the severance package, he said.

Efforts by the union to better the severance package weren’t successful, Drallmeier said. No severance is required, “so when they come and offer this, you got to take what they give you,” he said.

With the average age of the laid-off workers in their 50s, some longtime employees are eligible to retire. Some have found new jobs.

The grant announced by the city today is effective immediately and will run through Dec. 31, 2013, with the possibility of an extension to the end of 2014. Don Hoag, Duluth Workforce Development Manager, said the grants will focus on two tracks — job search and retraining — for displaced Georgia-Pacific workers.

“It’s a good thing,” Dwight Wickstrom, 56, of Esko, who worked at the plant for 37 years, said at the news conference, “and I believe it’s going to get better.”

Former Georgia-Pacific employees interested in assistance should contact the Duluth Workforce Development Center at (218) 302-8400, or visit the office at 402 W. First St.

News Tribune reporter Candace Renalls contributed to this report. This story originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

Lit guitarist Jeremy Popoff looks back on, forward to music

Lit are (from left) Ryan Gillmor, Kevin Baldes, A. Jay Popoff, Jeremy Popoff and Nathan Walker. (Photo courtesy of Good Cop Public Relations)

Jeremy Popoff wonders where the time has gone.

The Lit guitarist and his bandmates first found mainstream success in 1999 — after 10 years together — with the release of the album “A Place in the Sun.” The album’s biggest hit, “My Own Worst Enemy,” still gets consistent radio play today. The band’s run continued into the 21st century with three follow-up albums through 2004. But Lit’s time in the national spotlight faded as the band dealt with a series of tragedies.

In 2005, Jeremy and frontman A. Jay Popoff’s mother, Sheryl Suglia, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident when she and their stepfather, Kerry Suglia, were struck by a drunk driver. Kerry Suglia died.

In 2008, drummer Allen Shellenberger was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in 2009.

But the Popoffs and founding member Kevin Baldes (bassist-singer) never stopped playing. The Fullerton, Calif., band of brothers — biological and in friendship — continued to play shows despite going eight years between album releases.

With new members Nathan Walker (drums) and Ryan Gillmor (guitar and keyboard), Lit released “The View from the Bottom” in June.

The band wraps up the Summerland Tour, a ’90s-themed throwback of sorts that includes Sugar Ray, Everclear, Gin Blossoms and Marcy Playground, on Saturday night at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth.

Jeremy Popoff, 40, spoke with the News Tribune on Wednesday about his band, writing songs for Lit and other artists, and a career that has spanned four decades.

Jimmy Bellamy: Maybe it’s because it hasn’t been that long since the ’90s, but Lit’s music doesn’t sound dated.

Jeremy Popoff: “I think our new record sounds like Lit, and I think it sounds current and relevant. I don’t think it sounds dated. But at the same time, we’re just a rock band. I think a lot of the rock bands I grew up listening to kind of have their sound and they make records for 10, 20, 30 years. It’s funny; we were together 10 years before success and then all these people thought we were new. We’ve been around for a long time.

“One of the things that hasn’t changed is my guitar tone. I was an ’80s metal kid. I always had that sound and tried to achieve it since the ’80s. My sound went from dated to cool, dated to cool. I just never changed it. As accessible as music is now on the Internet, it’s kind of a trip. To be making music with Les Pauls and amps … that’s just how we’ve always done it. Now it seems like it’s rare to do it that way.”

JB: Have you been able to adapt to the changes in the music industry because of the period of time when you first were successful? Has it helped deal with how grimy the business can be?

JP: “The griminess of the business definitely hasn’t changed. The business of selling records has changed. We were fortunate. I’m stoked that I have a couple of platinum records hanging on my wall. Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll have an award for most ‘likes’ on Facebook. The idea of going out and selling a million physical hard copies of an album is difficult now. I was lucky to be a part of a band in that last wave, so to speak.

“We were lucky to be a band in the late ’80s. We’ve been around for a lot of stuff. We’re lucky to still be doing it. … I can’t believe how fast the last 10 years have gone.”

JB: After everything you went through, you never split up. Was it made easier because your brother’s in the band with you? Did you ever talk about a break-up?

JP: “I don’t think that that was ever an option. We’ve gone through a lot of crazy stuff over the last 10 years. I think it’s just real-life stuff that every person goes through. You keep going through it and getting through it. It’s not like Lit is a hobby or a side project. We’ve known Kevin since junior high. A. Jay and I are brothers, and Kevin’s my brother.

“(Even without new albums), we still had the ability to come and play shows. It’s what we dreamed about doing since we were little kids. You work your ass off for a lot of years to get to a certain point. We did it so long before we had any success.”

JB: You’ve continued to play together all these years. You hear and read about people in bands who go through burnout. You must love to perform.

JP: “It’s a rush and for real every night. I think the burn factor can definitely set in for other people. It’s different because we have kids and families and businesses now; it makes it difficult to be on the road for a period of time. It’s challenging in that regard, but for the most part we’re able to make it work.”

JB: You released the album “The View from the Bottom” in June. Has it helped to have new material at shows?

JP: “We’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to put out new music. The response has been awesome and the crowd is digging the new stuff. We weren’t working on this record the entire time.

“We were writing songs, but we also were writing songs for other people and other projects. That’s how Ryan joined the band. We got together to write songs for other people. The gears were turning; it feels good. Even though it was eight years (between albums), I couldn’t imagine looking back and saying, ‘We should have dropped a record that year.’ ”

JB: Did your success outside of music (the opening of The Slidebar Rock-n-Roll Kitchen in 2004 in Fullerton) make that easier?

JP: “I don’t know. I’m not sure that it has to do with success or not; it’s a matter of you go through the cycle. You get back to writing and do it again. It’s not that we weren’t (successful) in the past; it’s that other things were going on. As far as the next record, it might be next year. It’ll probably be quicker (than eight years). I have a recording studio in Nashville, so we have access to be able to jump in and go.”

JB: When putting an album together, are there certain songs that make the cut and others you stash away for later?

JP: “For us, we’ve never been a band that writes 30 or 40 songs and picks 12 and the rest go in the trash. Because we write for other things and other genres, we usually don’t finish a song we’re writing unless we’re into it. Usually by the time we have 12 or 13 songs, we’ll go and record those. It’s a waste of time and money to record songs that people aren’t going to hear.”

JB: You’re coming to a close on the Summerland Tour. Have you toured with some of the bands in previous years? How’s it been?

JP: “It’s been awesome. We’ve never done any shows with the Gin Blossoms, and those guys are great. The Marcy Playground guys; we hadn’t really known them before this tour. Sugar Ray and Everclear we’ve known, and those guys are awesome. I’ve been friends with (Everclear frontman) Art (Alexakis) for a lot of years.

JB: What are your tributes to Allen on the new album?

JP: “ ‘Here’s To Us’ and ‘The Wall’ are for Al. But really the whole record’s a tribute to him. We have a slideshow of him playing on the big screens during some shows. And we’ve done some other stuff, too. It’s different. I know other bands have, but I hadn’t been through it before. There was the public stuff, then the personal, private stuff. And some of it overlapped. But, yeah; I think every night’s a tribute to him. He’s up there onstage with us every night.”

JB: What’s in the works for you and Lit post-Summerland Tour?

JP: “We’ll be on the road again after this. We’re going to go home for a couple weeks, see the fam. We’ll be back on the road in the fall. Our first single’s going to radio in a couple weeks — ‘Miss You Gone.’ Check them out on iTunes and give them a listen.

“I also have another single I wrote coming out. It’s a country song called, ‘Why’d You Have To Be So Good,’ by Heidi Newfield. So, I’ll have two songs out there on different formats; it’s awesome. I love it. (Writing songs) is something that I’ll be able to do for a long, long time.”

This Q&A originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

But can he play soccer? Yes, yes he can

The message sounded too good to be true.

As president of the Duluth Amateur Soccer League, it’s common for me to receive e-mails from people new to the area looking to join a team. But I’d never read one like the message Matt McCune sent me three summers ago.

My adult-league team roster usually doesn’t have extra room, so I pass people’s names along to other clubs that could use the numbers. McCune’s was one name I kept, though. In the e-mail, he detailed his playing experience, which included time spent at a well-known NCAA Division I school and on the practice squad of a Major League Soccer team.

A simple Google search backed up his claims.

The elementary school teacher from Baldwin City, Kan., grew up in nearby Vinland, a tiny town where James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, used to preach. McCune, whose basketball-crazy high school didn’t have a soccer team, played one season (1993) at Ottawa University, a small NAIA school in Ottawa, Kan. (where Olympic runner and former Duluthian Kara Goucher’s father, the late Mirko Grgas, played), and set the program’s single-season assists record (18) and the NCAA record for fastest hat trick (5 minutes, 23 seconds) en route to being named the Braves’ Player of the Decade for the ’90s. (Grgas was Ottawa’s Player of the Decade for the ’70s.)

After stints as an amateur player with professional clubs that included the Minnesota Thunder and Austin Lonestars, McCune enrolled in school again at age 25 and played Division I soccer at Ohio State from 2000-03. He went on to play for the practice squad of the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) of the MLS.

McCune, 37, said he and his wife, Sarah, have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe and first came to the Duluth area in 2001 after reading an article about the North Shore.

“It’s exactly what I love,” he said. “I got tired of the mountains and fell in love with Lake Superior.”

Arizona and Florida get some of our finest senior citizens during the winter months. In exchange, we get McCune, who spends his summers near Two Harbors with Sarah and their two kids, son Grady, 8, and daughter Marley, 6.

Beginning Monday, McCune, who began instructing soccer clinics when he was 14, will be coaching at the Two Harbors Soccer Camp for youth players at Segog Park.

He started the camp in 2010 and has modeled it after ones he conducts in Vinland, a rural area with about 100 kids in a soccer club that focuses on individual skills, he said.

“Although they’re 700 miles apart, there are similarities with both towns. I definitely see that,” said McCune, who hopes to bring a Vinland team to the Northland — and vice versa — to play friendly matches. “I’m comfortable in Vinland, and I think that’s what made me comfortable here.”

Grady and Marley play in both cities.

“Now that I have kids, I think there’s even more interest in my club,” McCune said. “It’s nice to have two models of how I’ve done; that has helped.”

The Two Harbors camp is divided into two- or 2½-hour, four-day sessions for players from ages 6 to 17.

“Not only do the kids work on basic skills, but advanced skills as well,” Cass Beardsley, Two Harbors Soccer Club President, said. “I can always tell which of my kids have been to his camp. The improvement I see in the one-week period is amazing.”

McCune also has conducted coaching clinics for Two Harbors parents who may be light on soccer-playing experience. He provides 90-minute programs, where he runs coaches through drills.

“(The kids are) constantly moving the whole time they’re there (at camp), learning what to do with the ball in a game-time situation,” Beardsley said. “All of our coaches are volunteers, and most of us grew up without soccer. We’re all learning with all the kids, so this has been a great experience.

“He’s been helpful at increasing the skill level of our players.”

McCune’s hectic schedule as a coach, husband and dad didn’t allow him to play on my team until this season. When he finally showed up to his first and only game, my teammates, who have poked fun at me by claiming he doesn’t exist, asked McCune to show some ID.

While I’d like to have him at more games, I’d say McCune’s time in the Northland has been well-spent.

Jimmy Bellamy is a News Tribune multimedia editor. He may be reached at jbellamy@duluthnews.com and on Twitter and Facebook. This post originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

Flood proved worth of electronic media

Duluth was treated to Mother Nature’s softer side during Grandma’s Marathon weekend — so much so that the News Tribune pointed it out in the headline of a follow-up story Monday.

People interacted with the Duluth News Tribune via Twitter throughout the week of flooding in Duluth. (Jimmy Bellamy / jbellamy@duluthnews.com)

What she brought out for an encore, though, few could have predicted.

The storms and subsequent flooding that ravaged Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin painted a picture of chaos across its beautiful landscape: cars under water, roads crumbled, bridges decimated, homes’ basements resembling fish tanks.

The road to restoration will be long, no doubt, but these are the trials that bring out the best in humankind. Video camera in tow, while documenting the devastation in Moose Lake, the overwhelming spirit, optimism and positivity of its residents stood out more than the cold, murky water through which I waded.

Like any maelstrom event with wide public interest, the storm and flood brought out the best in the News Tribune newsroom. Fellow multimedia editor Andrew Krueger provided a Herculian effort that began with the creation of a severe-weather live blog on Tuesday that he kept watch over well into Wednesday morning. His all-hands-on-deck e-mail to newsroom staff shortly after 3 a.m. triggered what since has been nonstop coverage and updates at every turn.

People flocked to duluthnewstribune.com, our Facebook page, Twitter feed and our — most-recent addition — iPad app for the latest news, photos, videos and chatter about road closures, relief efforts and everything related to the massive storms and floods.

Our Twitter handle — @duluthnews — jumped from roughly 4,300 followers to more than 5,100 in a 24-hour period between Wednesday and Thursday, and our Facebook page increased by more than 1,000 “likes” to just under 5,000 in the same timeframe. Each has been an interactive platform that leads to even more information on our website.

The News Tribune iPad app, which can be downloaded free from the app store on an iPad, is another way for you to stay in touch with us any time.

When things have looked the worst, we’ve been there. And we’ll be with you throughout every step of this recovery.

Jimmy Bellamy is a News Tribune multimedia editor. He may be reached at jbellamy@duluthnews.com and on Twitter and Facebook. This post originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

Plane, pilot go missing near Duluth

Searchers are looking for a missing pilot and plane near Duluth.

A Civil Air Patrol plane engaged in the search for a plane missing in Northeastern Minnesota departs Duluth International Airport on Sunday, June 10, 2012. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The Civil Air Patrol says the plane — described as a white twin-engine Piper PA-31 Navajo with red and blue striping — with one person on board was reported to be on a flight from Fleming Field in South St. Paul to the Duluth airport and back to St. Paul on Friday.

A longtime friend of the missing pilot has confirmed to the News Tribune that searchers are looking for Michael Arthur Bratlie, 67, of Lakeville, Minn.

Don Nemcek, who attends St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minn., with Bratlie, said he has known the retired Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot for 17 years.

“He raised two wonderful kids who are both doing well. I think the world of Mike; he’s a great person,” said Nemcek, who is a member of the Vernacular Video Mission International board of directors with Bratlie. “I’m really sad to hear that this has happened, but very hopeful that something can be found.”

The search area Sunday extended from Silver Bay to the Canadian border, including Lake Superior, said Col. Jerry Rosendahl of the Civil Air Patrol.

“Unfortunately, we’re not rich in clues or solid information,” Rosendahl said Sunday afternoon. “Our planning section is working on every kind of idea of what might have happened and sending our crews out to the search area. We work the inland searches and the Coast Guard works the water.”

Eight Civil Air Patrol airplanes and six ground teams are involved in the search. About 60 Civil Air Patrol volunteers are participating, working from a base at the Duluth airport.

Rosendahl said he expected crews to stop searching for the night as wind and thunderstorms rolled into Northeastern Minnesota before resuming this morning, weather pending.

“The weather situation is what will determine when the search stops for the night. It could be pretty well closed up by now,” he said just after 7 p.m. while on his way home to the Twin Cities. “As long as we can fly, we’ll be flying. We will continue to search as we can.”

Rosendahl said nothing in the flight plan indicated that the pilot would deviate from the St. Paul-to-Duluth and Duluth-to-St. Paul routes.

The incident may not have been the first for Bratlie.

According to federal aviation records cited on the website aircraftone.com, on Dec. 16, 1999, a plane owned and piloted by Michael A. Bratlie of Lakeville, Minn., made a forced landing about two miles short of a runway at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colo., on a flight from North Platte, Neb., after a complete loss of power. The National Transportation Safety Board reported the pilot and one other passenger on board were not injured.

Nemcek said he has flown with Bratlie twice and attended the Oshkosh, Wis., airshow with him five years ago.

“Mike is a very meticulous, detailed person. When you flew with him, he had a reason for everything he did; very detailed and very systematic,” Nemcek said. “That’s why this news is very surprising.”

Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi with the Coast Guard 9th District public affairs office in Cleveland told the News Tribune the Coast Guard was contacted by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which coordinates federal search-and-rescue missions in the Lower 48 for inland areas — essentially, any searches not taking place over ocean waters.

The Coast Guard was asked to search an area of Lake Superior where cell phone tracing had placed the plane at some point in its journey. A boat crew out of Duluth did not find anything, and had completed its involvement in the search as of Sunday morning, Niemi said.

“He’s a wonderful Christian man” with an active lifestyle that includes traveling and painting, Nemcek said. He said Bratlie has created paintings of the places to which he has traveled and went on several mission trips to the Philippines as a part of the VVMI board, which he joined in 2000.

Both men are members of their church choir.

“I probably run into him; probably talk to him three or four times a month, usually at church,” Nemcek said. “I sing in the choir, and Mike plays in the orchestra. He plays the trombone, and actually he is very musically inclined. I know he has a couple brass bands that he essentially leads and plays with outside in the community.”

The Civil Air Patrol asks anyone in Northeastern Minnesota with information to contact Maj. Paul Pieper at (651) 398-4044.

News Tribune staff writer Mark Stodghill, multimedia editor Andrew Krueger and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This story originally appeared at duluthnewstribune.com.

Facts in alleged beating are few, but that doesn’t stop cyber mobs

 

Jimmy Bellamy is a Duluth News Tribune multimedia editor. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnewscom)

A little more than a week ago, a party was thrown at an abandoned gravel pit by a group of people that included students from Proctor High School.

Aside from that, little else is known as fact about the events that took place that Saturday night in Kelsey Township, where a 21-year-old Duluth man alleges he was beaten by as many as nine people because he told them he was gay when asked about his sexual orientation. One person was arrested — a 19-year-old man who isn’t a Proctor student. He since has been released from jail with pending charges.

The absence of facts didn’t stop people from using social media as a platform to fill in the blanks with what they think occurred.

“Proctor u (expletive) hicks. 13 kids beat the (expletive) outta 1 gay kid for being gay n (expletive) near killed him,” read one tweet posted within hours of the alleged incident.

Similar chatter dominated Duluth-area conversations on Facebook, where a screenshot of a post — complete with redacted names — alleging a 13-on-1 assault made its way from newsfeed to newsfeed.

“JUST WITNESSED THE MOST VIOLENT HATE CRIME BY PROCTOR HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS!!!” the anonymous post read.

And on the News Tribune’s own Facebook page, a reader posted “10 of them decided to jump 1 person.”

So, what happened?

Did nine, 10 or 13 people attack one person?

Was everyone involved a senior at Proctor?

Why were no Proctor High School seniors arrested?

“With this known hate crime, you can’t expect people NOT to speak out,” another DNT reader posted.

True, but was it a hate crime?

One fact that can’t be denied is that a gravel-pit shindig of underage alcohol consumption still is illegal, despite any pretense of parental control or law enforcement. And the pit party did nothing but hurt Proctor’s reputation.

“It comes as no surprise to learn it’s Proctor kids,” a Facebook post read.

As a student at Denfeld High School in the late 1990s, I’d hear people in neighboring communities tongue-in-cheek poke fun at Proctor. Remarks such as “Proctor High School has a parking lot reserved exclusively for snowmobiles” and “Upon entering high school, Proctor kids are handed boxes of hair bleach at the door” were commonplace. And when my Hunters played soccer against the Rails, it was almost a guarantee that our best players would be limping off the field by game’s end.

Two people were arrested Saturday, May 26, 2012, after a man reportedly was assaulted near Erickson Road in Kelsey Township. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

My friends from Proctor have spent years dealing with unfair potshots directed at their community. This latest chapter of living up to those stereotypes does nothing but set the town back in the eyes of those critics.

A problem of social media this case illustrates is the cyber-mob mentality that can make a story almost instantly spin out of control. Armed with all the information it needed, a group of instant protesters called for a rally in response to the alleged attack (they didn’t use the word “alleged”). Thankfully, by the time they gathered in Proctor on the rainy Memorial Day afternoon, cooler heads prevailed and the event was peaceful and civil.

Authorities promised daily that charges were forthcoming, but still haven’t announced any, now saying wait until next week. Even so, the actions will remain alleged until there is a conviction.

But whether or not anything ever is proven in this case, nothing justifies an attack on a person or group of people based on their human condition.

It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, or from Proctor.

Jimmy Bellamy is a multimedia editor for the News Tribune. He may be reached at jbellamy@duluthnews.com. This column originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.

Minnesota Duluth kicker invited to Packers camp

David Nadeau spent his Sunday morning the same way he has a lot of days since his college football career ended in December — kicking.

Minnesota Duluth kicker David Nadeau (87) kicks off during a game against St. Cloud State on Nov. 13, 2010, at Malosky Stadium in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

While some students probably used the day to sleep in or get a head start on studying for finals, the former Minnesota Duluth placekicker was booting footballs hours after accepting an invitation to participate in rookie orientation next month for a tryout with the Green Bay Packers.

Nadeau received the news shortly after the NFL Draft concluded Saturday afternoon.

“My agent told me to just keep sitting by the phone in case something pops up,” Nadeau said. “I got a call from him about 5 or 6 o’clock that they wanted me to come to their minicamp.”

Twitter was abuzz Saturday night with chatter from friends and former teammates that the Bulldogs senior and lifelong Packers fan from White Bear Lake, Minn., would be going to camp with Green Bay.

“Dave nadeau to the pack??? #ithinkso #theleague,” UMD tight end Ben Helmer tweeted.

Nadeau’s most memorable kick came at the end of the 2010 season on a 32-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Bulldogs a 17-14 victory over Delta State for their second NCAA Division II national championship in three seasons.

The four-year starter holds nearly every kicking record at UMD as well as the program’s all-time scoring mark with 390 career points. Nadeau also was a three-time All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference selection (2009-2011).

Nadeau said playing Division II college football “allowed me to show my potential. I came in here and started as a freshman. I had four years of experience. If I had played Division I, I definitely wouldn’t have had that. Experience helps me out a lot.”

UMD athletic director Bob Nielson returned to coaching football in 2008 after a five-year absence to lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA championship in Nadeau’s freshman season.

“I think David certainly demonstrated over his four-year career his development as a kicker. He had tremendous years, made kicks in big games; it’s that kind of exposure, particularly with a special-teams player like Dave, that’s important,” Nielson said. “The opportunity that he had here with our program and how he utilized it created situations where he’s going to get an opportunity to get looked at at the next level.”

Nadeau prepared for that next step by kicking throughout the winter — which he said wasn’t easy.

“It was a little difficult in the winter. I’d clear off some snow off the field and kick,” Nadeau said. “The winter was good, though, because we didn’t have a whole lot of snow. I’ve also been in the weight room, staying in shape and biking.”

The conditions weren’t always cold, though. In early March, Nadeau took a trip to Phoenix to participate in former NFL special-teams coordinator Gary Zauner’s kicking combine for college seniors.

“After he was successful there, we kind of had an inkling that he’d have a shot at something,” said Helmer, a senior captain next season and Nadeau’s roommate. “We had an idea of it, but until it came to fruition it was kind of crazy.”

Helmer, who was a redshirt freshman, came to UMD the same time as Nadeau. The Ellsworth, Wis., native quickly bonded with Nadeau once he found out the kid from the Twin Cities was a Green Bay fan.

“The Packers were having that family night scrimmage they have,” Helmer said. “We were both in our dorm rooms and went out and watched it together on TV.”

While wearing No. 87 at UMD, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Nadeau physically resembled a tight end more than the stereotypical kicker.

“He’s a different kind of kicker because he would work out,” Helmer said. “Dave’s always been a guy that’s worked out really, really hard. You’d never think that he’s the kicker. He’s a big guy.

“He knows a lot about the game. He never got the whole ‘kicker’ tag. He’s always been a big guy.”

His actions weren’t very kicker-like, either, according to Nielson.

“David really became a leader on our football team. You wouldn’t necessarily make that statement about a kicker,” he said. “We’re excited for him to have this opportunity. He’s a great ambassador for our program.”

Nadeau, who’s set to graduate in May with a degree in civil engineering, was thrilled to get a chance to try out for an NFL team, especially his favorite one.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Of course, I’d be happy playing for anybody.”

The Packers’ rookie-orientation camp is scheduled for May 11-13 in Green Bay.

This story originally appeared on duluthnewstribune.com.