August 3, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
The Stearns County Fair, by nature of the large-scale audience it draws every summer, finds new ways of awing and amazing visitors every year they visit the fairgrounds.
The 2023 edition of the fair featured one new attraction visible to fairgoers right as they ventured past the ticket booth: the 14/27 Basketball Challenge, a game allowing all contestants, athletic or not, to try their hand at shooting.
Running from the early afternoon to evening for three days, the challenge proved to be a major success.
“It was nonstop every single day,” said Tommy Getlinger, creator and owner of the 14/27 Basketball Challenge. “It didn’t matter of people’s overall skill and knowledge of the game. Everyone had a great time, and we saw a lot of people run the competition over and over and over again.”
The challenge in its full form poses a simple concept with a high degree of difficulty: making 14 of 27 shots across various areas of a basketball court without missing two shots in a row. For the fair, the concept was altered for accessibility’s sake, with participants needing to hit shots from 14 different spots, again without missing two in a row. Even with a smaller shot total, Getlinger wanted the activity to alter people’s perspective on adversity.
“Our mission, so to speak, is to help people get a don’t-give-up attitude,” Getlinger said. “If you can choose to not give up on a basketball court and push yourself to do things maybe you haven’t done before, hopefully, that will open up a window for you when it comes to life.”
Getlinger’s own battle with adversity helped spawn the challenge in the first place. Despite possessing a love for hoops, he struggled with asthma during his childhood in Wisconsin and was also inflicted with below-average eyesight, making his athletic prospects difficult. Through the odds, Getlinger managed to play the game he loved, and he came up with the 14/27 challenge format through shooting at gyms.
“Basketball is very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “It’s something I shouldn’t have been able to play if God didn’t do something special for me.”
Getlinger completed the challenge for the first time at the St. Cloud YMCA, and after accomplishing the feat again later in the year, decided to bring the intriguing test of shooting skill to the masses.
While the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic initially delayed 14/27’s growth, the challenge eventually found its way into high school gyms and basketball camps. Getlinger approached one fair hoping to offer the challenge as a unique source of athletic entertainment but was shot down. Not to be deterred, he reached out to the Stearns County Fair, leading to the competition’s greatest showcase yet.
“I read this statement I really like, ‘Some will, some won’t; So what – Someone’s waiting,’” Getlinger said. “Even if one person doesn’t like it or it doesn’t work for one fair, it’s possible it’s going to work for another… It was a huge honor for us to be able to be in that community.”
Through all 12 hours of its featured time at the fair, 14/27 offered cash prizes every hour to the participant who made it the farthest in the challenge, and a long-winding stream of aspiring winners took to the court for a chance to win. While Getlinger saw visitors of many demographics take their turn, what stood out in his mind from the overarching experience of the Stearns County Fair was not who was competing, but who was waiting in line.
“There were people sitting or standing in line for hours, right around the basketball court, watching us run person after person after person,” Getlinger said. “What was so cool was when those people, in the midst of the heat, standing there not being able to do anything, started cheering for people they didn’t even know. It was a great representation of what community is supposed to be like.”
Two signature sports-related events sponsored by Community Connection of Sauk Centre were the Stearns County Fair Demolition Derby and the autocross competition.
“It’s really great to see all of the people who come together to make it a really great event,” said Alan Lawinger, co-chairperson for the Stearns County Fair Demolition Derby.
The derby, which ran July 27-30, featured strong competitors across all forms of engagement. Thursday’s results saw Benjamin Duchene win the pure stock chain half-ton showing, Tyler Schwartz earn the top compact modified spot, Kurt Deters take first in pure stock chain, Eric Bueckers place atop the mighty mini builders class and Dylan Klaphake win the limited weld.
Friday’s derby action led to more excitement, with the winners being Schwartz in midsize modified, Mitchell Christianson in van class, Connor Tomsche in limited weld, Jeremy Tomsche in half and three-quarters limited weld and Blake Bromenshenkel in Hobo front wheel drive.
Saturday’s derby period included several first-place performances, including Roman Meier in compact/midsize modified, Loren Frericks in pure stock chain, Drew Westbrock in mighty mini builders class, Zach Callahan in the Hobo first heat and Brett Hellermann in the Hobo second heat.
Best paint across the four days went to John Hoffman, Tyler Peters, Adam Wolbeck and Wyatt Becker, respectively.
The autocross competition July 30 ended with Becker, Landon Zimmey, Brandon Goertz and Mitchell Klaphake snagging the top four spots.
Along with 14/27, another brand-new fairgrounds attraction was axe throwing, provided by Woodsman Axe out of Alexandria.
Held July 27-30, the fun-filled sporting showcase allowed participants to hurl axes at a pair of targets, broken down into two lanes.
It was the first time Woodsman Axe took part in a county fair, an experience that provided beneficial for not only the lakeside business, but for those trying their hand at a new activity.
“We had eight-year-olds up to people in their 80s doing it,” said Micah Cole, co-owner of Woodsman Axe alongside his wife Ashley. “A lot of people are surprised at how easy and exciting it is. It’s one of those things that are a lot easier than you think.”