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As if Glenville, Minnesota doesn't have woe enough over the parlous state of its farm economy, the high school football team had an 0-8 season, extending its losing streak to 68, four games from the record held by Iberia (Mo.)

I've always thought that if you tried hard, things would work out all right. This football team has tried hard, they have busted their butts, but things haven't worked out. Stick your nose to the grindstone and things will pan out. For the first time in my life, my beliefs are being tested.
Athletic director, Glenville High

When you sit here with the fear of losing your farm, you live in a different world. There was a time when I felt that if you worked hard enough, you could have anything. You had dreams and you could obtain them. Now the circumstances don't give you that freedom. No matter how hard you work, it's not enough. This farm is our dream. It's all we want, if we could only hang on to it.
Mother of Glenville player Ranger Hull

It was the time of year when folks in southeastern Minnesota usually savor the coming of Indian summer—that heavenly interlude when crisp leaves paint the sidewalks yellow and brown, and bright green combines are out harvesting corn and the summer sun pays one final call.

But not here, in the first days of October of this year, not in the farming town of Glenville (pop. 851). It had been raining and misting off and on for days running, keeping the combines out of the muddy fields, while bone-chilling winds blew fitfully from the Dakotas. Farmers paced and waited for a break, and the town banker was uneasy. "If they don't harvest this year, they could pull us all down," said Fred Friedrichsen, president of the Citizens State Bank of Glenville.

The weather notwithstanding, this had already become Glenville's gloomiest autumn. On Aug. 17, workers struck George Hormel & Co., the large meatpacking firm in nearby Austin, and that was keeping a number of local citizens out of work. There was a threatened strike looming day after day at nearby Farmstead, another packinghouse on which many Glenvillians rely for work. Worse, grain and pork prices remained depressed and the cost of production high. "I'd say 20 percent of our farmers are near bankruptcy," said Friedrichsen. "I've been in the business [here] for 16 years, and it's the worst I've ever seen it."

It was against this gray, colorless backdrop of cold rain, labor disputes and failing farms that the Glenville High varsity football team played out the most touching drama of the year in these parts. The Trojans came into the '85 season bearing a legacy that both hounded and mystified the team, the school and the town itself. Since Sept. 8, 1978, when Glenville beat Minnesota Lake 18-6, the school had not won a single game.

The Trojans were 0 for 60 through 1984—32 of the defeats were shutouts—and the opposition had outscored them 1,584-237. And the drought that the farmers suffered in these parts in July was matched only by the one that struck the Trojans in September and October. After Waterville thumped Glenville 43-0 on Oct. 16 in the last game of the season, the Trojans were 0-8 for '85—and the streak stood at 68. By then, or so it seemed, just about everyone in Minnesota was counting.

Before the season's first game against Morristown, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, the state's largest daily, had run a lengthy story beginning on the front page of the sports section, headlined, 0 AND 60/WHEN WILL THERE BE JOY IN GLENVILLE? The story pointed out that Glenville was closing in on the national high school record for consecutive defeats, 72, set by Iberia, Mo. in the seasons between 1965 and '74. The inevitable then happened. The wire services picked up the story and sent it nationwide. Soon afterward, a representative from ABC's Good Morning America telephoned the school from New York, making inquiries. By early October townsfolk and school administrators were beginning to circle the wagons.

"There's so much pressure on the kids," said Larry Knutson, 30, head of the Glenville Booster Club, who had played for the Trojans in the days when the team held its own in football. "Radios, magazines, newspapers. Too much pressure on them to win a football game. That shouldn't be their main goal in life. It's not fair. When the streak began in 1978, some of these kids [the seniors] were in the fifth grade. They had no control over it. The kids should be having a good time as members of the team, win or lose, competing and showing good sportsmanship."

That may be true, taking the long perspective on things, but Glenville is small-town Middle America, sitting out there in the embattled grain belt, and the win ethic is as pervasive as the wind and as clinging as the cockleburs that stick to the pants legs as one walks the fields. With all the problems the farmers were having, the football record, and the attention it was drawing, was simply another discomfiting presence, one that evoked a potpourri of reactions—from Knutson's concern over what the boys were going through to embarrassment over being the brunt of jokes to bewilderment, sadness and pity.

Arnie Forseth, 85, was a Glenville town barber for 56 years; he has seen more Trojan football games than he cares to remember. During the season he sits at the window of his apartment overlooking the football practice fields and watches the kids go through their daily drills.

"I feel very sorry for them," said Forseth one October afternoon. "Look at them. They're out there now practicing in the rain. Can't they at least have a win for all the time and all the effort they put in? I know they'd like to win. It seems that after all these years, we should win a game. These little devils have the heart, and they go out there and try the best they can. I don't know why they're losing. I don't understand it and it hurts a little bit."

The hurt takes all forms, of course, but nowhere is it more biting than in the sense of lost pride that some of the kids and adults feel at being a part of all this. In fact, some of the kids are admittedly shy about being identified as Glenville football players when they visit Albert Lea, a city of 19,000 that lies just to the northwest, and which Glenville serves as a bedroom community. There are adults who share their chagrin.

"Just like any small-town person, you do take pride in your school and your football team," says Dean Adams, a 33-year-old farmer who played for Glenville. "Who wants to be the laughingstock of the area? People joke about us. A couple of years ago, one of the kids said to me, 'You know, I never won a high school football game. In all the years I played, I never won.' It's got to be depressing as hell."

For these alumni, with memories of better times, it is particularly so. Why, when he was a kid in the early '60s, Bill Severtson watched the Trojans fight for the conference championship three years in a row against Grand Meadow when Grand Meadow had Duane Benson. Benson, reputedly the best player ever to come out of the area, later was an outside linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta and Houston. Severtson, a social studies teacher, was a running back and linebacker for the Trojans from 1966 to '69 and the best all-around player ever at Glenville. Walking the sidelines as the Trojans were getting mauled in the rain by Faribault Bethlehem Academy 35-7, Severtson's jaw was set, his countenance grim. "I don't even want to tell people I'm from here," said Severtson, whose cousin Randy plays for Glenville. "It's sad to watch this. It's like being slugged in the gut. The problem around here is commitment. These kids don't want it bad enough. You've got to want it! If I coached here, I'd tell them, 'You either play football for me or work on the farm. You can't do both.' "

The way to get to Glenville if you work, say, at Farmstead in Albert Lea, is to take Route 65 south and follow that for about six miles, alongside the railroad tracks. The road straightens out about a mile from town, and there, in the distance, you'll see a water tower dominating the landscape and a set of huge grain elevators on the right.

That's Glenville. Main Street cuts off to the left and runs for about a quarter of a mile, past a few houses, the American Legion Hall and the Citizens Bank, past the town's favorite swizzle stick, the Office Bar, then past the post office and Wally Hoyt's barber shop and Don's Food Market and a secondhand furniture store. Past a few more stores and shops, Main Street ends abruptly at the bridge stretching over the Shell Rock River.

When Glenvillians say they are going to town, they don't mean Main Street. Town is Albert Lea, whose malls and city lights have taken the vitality from Glenville's businesses. "We used to have two barbershops in town, with two barbers in each shop," says Forseth. "Four grocery stores! A nice creamery, two blacksmith shops and two stockyards; one belonged to the Illinois Central and the other to the Rock Island Line. We had a dandy hardware store and two big saloons. And we had two nightclubs."

One of the nightclubs doubled as the town's whorehouse, but that activity ceased during World War II, and the nightclubs are gone, too. Lately, the town's moral indignation has been aimed at the Loose Caboose, a bar on the southwest corner of town, near the grain elevators, that features exotic dancers who flounce around in G-strings, topless, scandalizing the God-fearing citizens of this two-church town. "That is really a sore spot around here," says Virginia Hefta, a Glenville resident for 25 years. "It's not what a clean, small town needs." Townspeople are quick to point out that license plates on cars in the Loose Caboose parking lot show that most of the patrons are from Iowa; the state line is six miles to the south.

Close to Iowa or not, Hefta says, "That doesn't mean we have to entertain them."

Oh, there have been some things to talk about over the years. In 1876, in the town of Northfield, 70 miles away, the Jesse James gang bungled a bank robbery that landed Cole Younger in jail, and while in the area the gang stopped for fresh horses at Stephen Reeder's place, some 3½ miles west of Glenville. Now and then a twister passes through. In 1967, a tornado picked up Mrs. Otto Ziebell's house, sheared it off at the foundation and deposited her out in the pasture.

"They couldn't find her for a while," says Janice Schilling, a bartender at the Office Bar, "but she lived."

That was the year when Severtson was a hard-nosed sophomore and Glenville was still a force to be reckoned with in high school football. It was not a power, but its teams were competitive, in part because in those days Glenville belonged to the now defunct Southland Conference, made up of a group of smaller burgs like Lyle, Elkton, Adams and Rose Creek.

When the Southland Conference folded in 1973, after three of its member schools consolidated, Glenville was invited to join the Gopher Conference, with its bigger schools and stronger teams. Olson coached the varsity from 1969 through '79, seeing it through the transition. "We'd win three or four games a year in a schedule of nine in the Gopher," he says. "We never went over .500." In 1977, their last respectable year, the Trojans were 4-5. The next season they began the big slide after winning the second game against Minnesota Lake. The rest has been silence.

After the winless 1979 season, Olson became the athletic director and coach of the girls' softball team, a new program that he has since turned into the centerpiece of Glenville athletics. The girls have gone 55-5 in the last four years, and are undefeated in the Gopher Conference over that time. "Something to brag about, they are," crows Forseth.

But the football team continues to lose and lose. Why? For one thing: Glenville has only 450 youngsters in kindergarten through the 12th grade, giving it the second-smallest enrollment among the conference's seven public school systems. Blooming Prairie has the largest enrollment, with 891 kids. "We're out of our league," says Friedrichsen.

Over the years, some games have been so close as to be decided on one play—on a missed kick or errant pass. In 1983 Janesville beat the Trojans in overtime, 6-0, and a week later Faribault won 7-6. Against Morristown in 1981, they lost 2-0 on a safety. Remembering the close calls, Glenville's school superintendent, Bill Bjorklund, says, quite sympathetically, "If there's a way to get beat, they have found it."

The coach's office has had a revolving door. Since 1979 there have been four coaches at Glenville, and in the three years from 1982 to '84 there were three. Jeff Foss, a senior last year, played under all three. "Very unstable," says Foss, an offensive lineman and linebacker, one of the best players to come out of Glenville in the last few years. "Different coaches, different strategies. It's hard to build a program like that."

But Don Williamson, who runs Don's Food Market on Main Street, says, "There has to be something mental holding them back. It has to be intangible. They can go from the 40 to the 30 to the 20 to the 10, but something in the back of their minds is telling them that the end zone is a twilight zone. An unknown. And, hey, you don't really have to be there, so why do it? There is a security being in a situation that hasn't changed. These kids aren't losers. They are no different than other kids. We've had good kids up there, as good as other kids, but I think they're secure in the state of losing. Let's face it. Losing has been accepted."

However much truth there is in that, losing football games has been no intangible experience for Roger Reuvers, who took over as football coach in '84, but the reasons behind it have remained as invisible to him as pollen in the air. "We've been improving statistically, but we're still coming out with the same results, the same score," he said after a 13-0 loss to Janesville on Oct. 5. "And I hear it over and over again from coaches at other schools: 'Your kids play hard, they don't quit, they play to the end.' It has been tough this year. The media. The continued losing. We really thought we had a chance to win some games this year."

What certainly made that more difficult than ever in 1985 was the awareness throughout the league that Glenville had the longest losing streak in high school football in America. "It's gotten so blown up," said Wally Hoyt, the barber. "Everybody thinks, 'We might be the team that gets beat by Glenville!' Who wants to be the team that gets beat by Glenville? That makes it tough."

And no more so than on the players. On the eve of the game at Janesville, Reuvers exhorted his boys to go all out from the opening kickoff. "Let's go at 'em!" he said. "Let's show them we're a good physical team. All right? They've been laughing at us, joking about us, making fun of us. We've got to be ready. If we put it to 'em right away, they're gonna panic and say, 'Hey, we're gonna lose! We don't wanna lose to Glenville. Nobody loses to Glenville!' They're gonna panic and we're gonna get 'em!"

Alas, it did not happen. Only 60 or so Glenvillians braved the wet chill to make the 50-mile trip, but they cheered lustily at any sign of hope, with a dozen vociferous fans chasing the chain marker up and down the field, yelling, "You can do it! Go get 'em, Glenville!"

The Trojans' first big drive swept down to Janesville's 21-yard line. They looked as if they were going to score but the drive sputtered out in penalties and ended in an interception. Another drive faded inside Janesville's 10 when time ran out in the second quarter. In the end, with Janesville leading 13-0 and 13 seconds to go, the Glenville cheerleaders began chanting, "We love our team! We love our team!"

"It hurts to see the looks on their faces," said Wendy Hertges, one of the cheerleaders. "They look like they've just lost their best friends. We're all close because it's such a small school. You know they're trying out there, and it's not easy. Watching Mr. Reuvers, it's just unreal. His face gets all red. There's so much tension. This year it's more intense."

It was even more so the following week, as the season grew shorter, when Glenville took the field at home against Faribault. Some 200 Glenville partisans braced themselves against the cold and mist to see the game, looking for that upset to rid them of this demon, but Faribault manhandled the Trojans. Glenville had scored only 14 points in its six previous games—six against Ellendale and eight against Blooming Prairie—and the very act of scoring had become an event, somehow a victory in itself. This looked like another whitewash until, late in the game, losing 35-0, the Trojans suddenly had the ball on the Faribault 15.

Glenville's Neal Schilling slashed over the left side for five, taking it down to the 10. Several Glenville fans left the stands where they had been sitting under blankets and gathered at the line of scrimmage. "You can do it!" one shouted. "Come on, now!" The next play was Schilling to the right, again over tackle, and he plowed to the two. Now, framed against a cornfield that rimmed the south side of the field, Schilling slanted left and in for the score. Cheers erupted.

In the locker room after the game, the Trojan walking wounded nursed them selves in silence. Lineman Bob Bock, a co-captain, had suffered a dislocated right shoulder. "I got blindsided," he said. The quarterback, Jeff Foss's brother Joey, had wrenched his neck. "It numbed out," he said. Running back Randy Severtson, a cousin of Bill's, the hardest hitter on the team, limped to the shower with a charley horse. "I'll be all right," hi said. And Schilling walked gimpily to his locker. "I hurt my knee and ankle," Schilling said.

In 1985 this was a struggling team in a community that was struggling itself to survive. For all the talk about the football team, the problems facing the farmer put those facing the football team in particularly sharp perspective. Whatever the community's concerns about the out come of a football game, they were low on the totem pole of the town's most pressing priorities. "Football is important," said Hoyt, "but how long are we gonna have a football team, school—a town?"

Lonny Broitzman urged a reluctant pig down a narrow chute that led into a pen, wielding gently what appeared to be a large wrench, but was really a hog-shocker. Not far away, two pigs lay dead. "Pneumonia," Broitzman said. "I had 400 get sick. Lost 10 of them. Spent $400 on medicine. Last week, between the mud and the pigs that died, I was ready to quit."

He did not, of course, because this is the only life he has ever known or wanted to. Besides the pigs, Broitzman, 41, has 520 acres in soybeans and corn, and he's in the same fix as the other farmers.

"Can't get no price for anything," he said. "It's just terrible. You work and can't show a profit; you can't do that forever. I love the farm, and I've done it all my life. It's hard when you're 41 years old and thinking about doing something different. Farming is in your blood. It gets in you. Love of the land. It seems like in the spring, when the ground dries up and the dust starts blowing, the natural thing to do is go out there in the fields and farm the land. You plant your corn and watch it grow.

"You hear about all these farmers having land for years? Well, the machinery goes first. Around here, they're losing their machinery. They are holding together by threads, praying something happens."

Broitzman's son, Rick, had just gotten home from football practice. Rick, a quarterback and split end, leaves practice at 5:30 every night to go home to do chores. He cultivated all his father's beans this summer and looked after the family's sows. Like most parents of football players, Lonny Broitzman is caught up in the team's misfortunes. "It bothers me a lot," he said. "It's depressing to lose all the time. It's like in farming. You do your best and still can't make it. As far as all these games they've lost, I don't know. The kids try their best. I guess that's all you can ask."

Rick flashed a pitchfork as he mucked out straw in a feeder-pig shed. He is one of the players reluctant to advertise what school he's from. "When we go to Albert Lea, nobody wants to wear his letter jacket," he said. "We don't want to be asked a lot of questions about being a losing team. You feel out of place. It's really embarrassing, to have a reputation for being a losing team. I think about it a lot. You visit other schools and they ask where you're from, and they say, 'Glenville?' and there's always a chuckle. It hurts."

Broitzman is not the only Trojan football player whose life outside of school is wedded to the farm, but he was almost unique in expressing so deep a sense of humiliation at what was happening on the field. Jon Flatness, a junior end who also breeds and raises pigs on his parents' acreage outside town, shrugged off the notion that the team's enduring misfortunes affected him. "It's not a big thing," Flatness said. "We might have a losing streak in football, but there are other things we're good in. In the spring barrow show at Albert Lea [a barrow's a castrated pig], we were premier exhibitor this year. We showed the best hogs in the state. At the spring steer and heifer show, we usually do pretty good."

Most of the students at Glenville, including a number of football players, are involved in the 4-H Club and the Future Farmers of America. Kim Meyer, the school's agriculture teacher, who doubles as an assistant football coach, has a rack of trophies in his classroom celebrating the students' prowess at livestock and dairy judging contests around the state. What with classes, football practice, games, chores and judging contests, the farm kids have all they can handle in a school year.

"It's something, what some of these kids go through," says Meyer.

For the first six weeks of the season, no player had a busier schedule than defensive end Ranger Hall. Up at 5:30 a.m., he was milking the family's 45 cows by six. An hour and a half later, with that done, he showered, bolted down breakfast—"You take it on the run pretty much," he says—jumped on his motorcycle and rode the two miles to school. At 3:08 p.m., with his last class dismissed, he headed for the locker room to put his "uni" on. The practice session lasted until 5:30. Dressing quickly, he was out of the locker room and on his cycle at 5:50, gunning it over a country road for home.

The night before the game against Janesville, Hall parked his motorcycle at home and set out on foot for a broad pasture in the back. There, scattered in black and white patches a quarter of a mile away, grazed the Halls' herd of holsteins. With the help of three dogs, Hall rounded them up and drove them over to the milking barn. As one bossy after another stepped into one of three stalls, Hall hosed the mud off her udders, attached suction hoses to her teats and poured her a snack of grain to eat as she waited. At 7:30 he was ready to feed the calves.

Punching such a clock, Hall had little time to fret about the football team's record. "I'd rather have seen us win one, but you put the losses behind you," he said. "It's different when you think about it. It doesn't seem possible. One of these days we've got to win." As things turned out, Hall quit the team with two games left to play. It came after the loss in Janesville, in protest over the suspension from the squad of one of his friends—the kid had cut school.

In any case, Ranger's parents, Roger and Gloria, had more on their minds than football games, though they regularly attended them to watch Ranger play and their daughter, Robin, lead cheers. Roger was working two jobs, farming the land by day and working at Farmstead by night. Gloria was holding down three jobs. In the morning she drove a school bus. At midday she worked as a cook in a nursing home in Albert Lea. Home by 2 p.m., she did another tour in the school bus. At night, for five hours, she supervised a custodial detail cleaning the Freeborn County Court House in Albert Lea. She was home by 9:30. They were working to save their farm.

"The football team and the farm economy have brought people together," Gloria said. "It's hard. There aren't enough jobs. People are working for minimum wage. It's not hard to be humble. I want to pay my bills. I only hope to live long enough to pay them."

Like the Halls, the Fosses were doing their best to keep the wolf away. Allan Foss was one of the Hormel strikers. His wife, Crystal, had taken a computer programming job in Albert Lea. The idea of not winning a single varsity game in high school had preyed on their oldest son, Jeff, as it was now preying on his brothers Dan, a 240-pound senior tackle (who enjoys playing Bach on the family piano), and Joey, a sophomore quarterback.

Sitting with his parents at their kitchen table one evening, with three games still to play, Dan said quietly, "It's really starting to get to me. It's frustrating. We'll run three or four good plays and then fumble."

"I feel real bad for the kids," said Allan. "It's been tough."

Dan smiled. "I think the parents feel worse than the kids," he said.

"You feel helpless," said Crystal. "The beginning of the season isn't so bad, but after the sixth or seventh game, it's hard."

"No one cares about sports in Glenville anymore," said Dan. "We're not winning. Some kids go out, but there's a lot more that don't." In fact, only five Glenville juniors went out for football this year, and this from a class that had some 20 players out four years ago. The most prominent absentee, Mark Schumaker, a 6'1", 175-pound fullback, said he needed to work to pay off debts incurred when he got into an auto accident while driving without insurance. As for all those other juniors not playing, he said, "They figure, 'We're not gonna win, so why go out?' Next year, everyone is going out. We've been called the rowdiest class in the school. We're going to show them that, even if we are rowdy, we can win a football game."

Dan Foss has no intention of dwelling on the football record. "I feel bad about it, but it's not something that's gonna stick with me," he said. "I want to go to college and make something of myself.... At least we've got the guts to go out there—at least we're having fun. I still enjoy it.... I don't know what I'd give to win. It would be so wonderful."

Foss would never have that feeling, the one so memorable and familiar to the majority of kids who have played school ball. "I don't know what it would be like to go through four years of high school and not win a game," said Kim Meyer. "It's hard for me to relate to them that way. They don't know the feeling of coming into the locker room and saying, 'We won!' If they could only know how good it can feel!"

That's history now, and dimmer tomorrow than today as time passes. Schilling has his fishing rod—he knows the secrets of the Shell Rock River—and his bow and arrows for hunting deer out by the buffalo fields. Foss has his piano and Bach, Hall his cows. And Flatness and Broitzman and all the others, their feeder pigs. "We're not losers," Flatness says.

There is much to do in Glenville, a way of life to be claimed every spring and reclaimed every fall. Games and farms might be lost, but they'll be found again. This is Glenville, after all, the land of survivors like Otto Ziebell's wife.






Glenville's water tower and grain elevators are the town landmarks, visible for miles.




Anger over losing ("It hurts") hogs the thoughts of farmer's son Rick Broitzman.



In the livestock shows, at least, a number of football players are winners for Meyer.



Ranger Hall (72) was as preoccupied as (he rest of his family—Chip, Gloria, Roger and Robin—with saving the farm and with the fate of Glenville's luckless football team.



As do many of his teammates, Hall awakens at 5:30, milks cows and heads to school.



It sounds a bit corny when Dan Foss says that football still provides moments of fun.



Schilling found fishing tranquil, but when reality hit, there were more losses and bruises.



In spite of all the losses, Glenville's cheerleaders could still summon up some spirit.



On their way to Waterville, the Trojans seemed loose enough to end the streak; later the scoreboard told a quite familiar story.