The Wide Angle: LeMar was what community sports reporting should be
Like so many, I was saddened to learn of the passing of longtime Blooming Prairie sports reporter and retired educator LeMar Nelson earlier this month.
I met LeMar early in my time in Austin. In fact, he was probably one of the first, if not the first, media member outside of Austin I met.
He was everything I had come to know when it came to small-town community sports reporting: a man who knew every player, every parent, every coach, and if there was an event he missed, you knew darn well it was important.
What I didn’t know ,however, were the years of coaching and teaching he had behind the clipboard I always saw him with. Starting in Blooming Prairie in 1957, LeMar went on to be a teacher, coach and principal for the district.
All of this went unknown by me for several years until John Worke showed Rocky Hulne and I a plaque in the Blooming Prairie High School trophy case that featured LeMar standing by his team.
But mostly, I knew LeMar on the sidelines of whichever sport you care to mention. Over the years you could count on two things in Blooming Prairie: Competitive teams and LeMar Nelson.
In something of a ritual, for me at least, when I would cover BP football, I would get there early just so I could talk with him for a couple minutes and pick his brain on one subject or another, which was amazing because it didn’t matter what that subject was, LeMar knew about it.
He, of course, knew the lowdown with the Blossoms, but he always had some sort of tidbit about the opposing team.
LeMar also had an interest outside of Blooming Prairie. I would always count on LeMar asking how Austin was doing, or if Grand Meadow had a shot at another state title.
This was also true of basketball, where he could often be found sitting in the front row in the bleachers at midcourt.
What I always found interesting was aside from knowing most everything in Blooming Prairie, the kids he covered were equally invested in LeMar. The student athletes always had time for him.
In his retired years, was that sports reporter that wasn’t just covering his community, he was a part of that community.
I’ve worked alongside numerous weekly reporters and they are easily among the most recognizable faces in any small community.
Weekly sports reporters, especially those long time faces, are different from their daily counterparts in that they simply don’t report the news to their community. More over, it can be compared to neighbors sharing stories over coffee on a Saturday morning or perhaps over a pastry at The Bakery on Blooming Prairie Main Street.
Covering events in Blooming Prairie almost didn’t seem official unless LeMar was on the sidelines. In fact, he is the only journalist that I’m aware of that seemed to have his own dedicated seat on a football bench.
There were times that I often marveled at the dedication LeMar showed in order to bring Blooming Prairie the stories of the Blossom athletic teams.
A number of years ago, when Mall of America Field — or the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome if you so prefer — still stood, Blooming Prairie made it to the Minnesota State Football semifinals.
In the dome we didn’t take an elevator to the playing field, but instead took the steep stairs down the entire hike. I suppose at the time if I would have made the effort, I might have found an elevator, but I didn’t.
About 45 minutes to game time I openly wondered to our own sportswriter Rocky Hulne if LeMar would make the long walk down or just cover the game from the seats.
I should have known better, because not more than five minutes later there he was; LeMar was making the long walk to make sure he was on ground level to cover the Blossoms.
It’s one of the things I learned you should never do: Underestimate his desire to be where the Blossoms were.
It’s fitting then, amongst the sadness of his passing, to think that when the Awesome Blossoms finally captured their first football state championship in school history this past fall, LeMar was still with us.
He may not have been able to be there, but there is no way to convince me otherwise that he didn’t have a radio on. I can’t imagine LeMar missing that.
Even though I saw him maybe five times a year at most, I considered it an honor to have known LeMar. He was caring and dedicated when it came to his community and Blooming Prairie will be a little less with his passing.