Dave Niemi leaned against the white brick entry of the Ranger Gymnasium in the remodeled Crosby-Ironton High School and enjoyed the moment.
It was the Thursday before Christmas break and Niemi had just masterminded a plan that included six basketball games in three different gyms with three different groups of officials, scorekeepers and clock technicians.
The successor to the retired Roger Twigg, Niemi had less than a month of experience as activities director. On his first day, he was told the Dec. 22 activities couldn't be done. He was ordered to change the date or the location. But Niemi didn't. He knew it would work. It did as fans of both the C-I Rangers boys' and girls' basketball programs watched their hometown heroes battle Mid-State Conference rival Staples-Motley.
Dave Niemi applauded during the Crosby-Ironton Rangers girls' basketball victory over Staples-Motley Dec. 22. Niemi succeeds Roger Twigg as the activities director and geography teacher at C-I. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Niemi, who also assumes Twigg's eighth-grade geography class, conquered his first challenge. He knows more will develop, but for now he's glad to be back in the school system. It's a contrast from building cabinets with his brother in Foley after his position as senior high social studies teacher at C-I was eliminated two years ago.
"I knew Roger was going to be retiring," said Niemi, who coached the Crosby-Ironton/Aitkin Grizzlies boys' hockey team for 10 years. "Then when the actives thing came up, I always had an interest in it. I've always been a sports guy. I coached here for 10 years. The biggest thing was coming back to a full-time job into a community where I already was living."
Though he lost his job, Niemi didn't lose his sense of community in C-I. Growing up in the small mining school of Aurora-Hoyt Lakes (now Mesabi East), Niemi understands the troubles C-I faces. He recognizes the population is declining and older. He also knows the pride the community has in C-I athletics.
"I knew I was stepping into big shoes," said Niemi. "This is the type of job that comes around every 15 to 20 years and you just go, 'Holy cow.' The magnitude of that and thinking to be hired into that position was huge. I don't think I was overwhelmed stepping into it, but as soon as I had a day or two of transitioning with Roger, I was already going, 'Wow.'"
Niemi said the events, if quality help is around, take care of themselves. The happenings in the office - the budget, the codes, the paperwork - is where "wow" occurs.
During his first coaches meeting Niemi said he was going to need help. Help has come in the form of Kim Taylor, community education/activities office assistant, a veteran coaching staff and Twigg.
Position: Activities director, eighth-grade geography teacher
High school: Aurora-Hoyt Lakes (Mesabi East)
College: St. Cloud State
Adding to Niemi's chaos is inheriting two positions in the middle of the year. But he'll take it. He's not dwelling on any negatives and is eager to grow activities participation in the elementary level and showcase the talent that is already in Ranger activities.
"I missed the atmosphere," said Niemi. "There is just something about walking into a school, particularly one you're familiar with. You feel it. You feel that energy. It's nice being around the kids. It's nice being in the classroom. Plus with the activities job, I have the chance to be at all different kinds of events. I went to my first wrestling match ever last week."
It's one of the many activities Niemi will have to learn as he goes. Another is becoming accustomed to and knowledgeable about the band, choir, drama and speech programs, for which he is also responsible.
"We've got a lot of award-winning band and choir students," said Niemi. "Band and choir are big and we're working on getting a new coach for our speech and drama department. We've always had spectacular people in those.
"That's a little bit of the difference here is this is an activities position, not just athletic. It's just fun. I'm doing things I wouldn't normally do."
That includes watching both the boys' and girls' varsity basketball teams beat the Cardinals.
If Niemi spared a moment Thursday night to glance around the stands, he would have caught a glimpse of Twigg (decked out in maroon) and the man Twigg succeeded, John Davies (also wearing maroon). They're people who experienced Niemi's "wow" and understand the pride of being the head Ranger.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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