Junior Birkie History

The Junior Birkie has become a Premier Midwest Youth Event By Bruce Manske Birkebeiner skiers both old and new alike, have a long and storied history. According to the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation archives, this skiing tradition began in 1206, and was the springboard for future events, such as the Junior Birkie. There is a story behind every great event. The Junior Birkie is no different; it began a long time ago, in a land far away. Legend has it, while wearing protective birch bark leggings, backcountry skiers trudged through the treacherous mountains and rugged forests of Norway’s Osterdalen valley, from Lillehammer to Trondheim, during the Norwegian Civil War. These noble warriors successfully smuggled the son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg to safety, and affectionately became known as Birkebeiner skiers. Norwegian history credits the bravery of the Birkebeiners with preserving the life of the boy, who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV, and forever changed Northern European history. The story of this enduring flight was the inspiration for the first Birkebeiner ski race held in Norway in 1932, where 157 men began the trek and 155 finished. To this day, during the Norwegian Birkebeiner Rennet, skiers still carry a pack, symbolizing the weight of an 18-­‐
month old child. The race draws over 9,000 skiers, and takes skiers point to point, from Rena to Lillehammer. To further honor Nordic traditions and history in America, Tony Wise launched the American Birkebeiner in1973. Wise called upon skiers to challenge themselves against the snow-­‐covered hills of Northern Wisconsin. Because of his call, thirty-­‐four men and one lone woman were on the starting line, clad in woolen sweaters and knickers, for the 50-­‐ kilometer race from the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin. An additional nineteen more women and juniors skied a shorter race from County Road “OO” to Telemark. The Birkie has flourished significantly over the years; it now represents a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, a fitness destination, and a lifestyle where friends and families meet to run, bike, and ski. The American Birkebeiner has grown from a single, one-­‐day event into a weekend celebration of Nordic activities, as well as a year-­‐around schedule of outdoor activities and events. The Junior Birkie is one of many additions to the American Birkebeiner schedule; it specifically focuses on young skiers and adds to a weekend of Nordic fun. On Friday, February 25, 2000, the Junior Birkie made its debut at Fish Hatchery Park in Hayward, Wisconsin. The event was sponsored in part by TNT Video and proceeds from the song, “Ode to Tony Wise and Birkie Trail.” It provided a competitive race experience for skiers ready to move beyond the Barnebirkie, the already established non-­‐timed event for skiers from 3 to13 years old. According to Cherie Morgan, executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, who originally proposed the idea for the event, "We received feedback from coaches and parents that they wanted a competitive event for junior skiers in the 10 to 15 age category.” Morgan added, “Several Midwest ski coaches considered the Kortelopet too long a race for the junior skier, but felt the Barnebirkie was an event for novice and beginning skiers. As a result, the Junior Birkie concept was developed.” Junior Birkie organizers, Scott Wilson and Kevin Brochman, both United States Ski Association (USSA) coaches, claimed a 2.5-­‐kilometer race would attract competitors from Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as skiers from across the United States. They expected many young skiers to already be in the Hayward area with their parents, who were planning to ski the 2000 Johnson Bank American Birkebeiner. Wilson, Program Manager for Central Cross Country Ski Association (CXC) stated, “This new event provides an opportunity for competitive junior skiers to focus on speed and technique in a sprint race; plus, this race is a shorter distance, similar to the Junior Olympic qualifier races. Therefore, skiers will race in a tournament style event. It's going to be a fun time for the youth and a great spectator event for parents and families." Kevin Brochman was a member of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team during the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and served as a U.S. Ski Team coach in 1998. He added, “The idea behind the Junior Birkie event is to create a fun activity and add excitement to the American Birkebeiner; this addition, fills the gap between the Barnebirkie and the Kortelopet for young skiers. Other coaches agreed, including Ken Schoville, youth development coordinator for Midwest Cross Country Skiing, "Our emphasis has been on getting kids to ski appropriate distances at a fast pace. This race gives juniors an alternative, and introduces them to racing and interval starts. It also provides an opportunity to network with coaches who are searching for competitive skiers." Mother Nature dealt a serious blow to Birkie 2000, with her unseasonably warm temperatures and rain. For the first time in the 28-­‐year history of the American Birkebeiner, race officials cancelled the 50-­‐kilometer cross country ski race. Warm weather turned much of the course to slush and stones. ''The organizers felt that the trail conditions just simply did not allow them to complete the race,'' said Phil Van Valkenburg, sales and marketing director at Telemark Resort at Cable, Wisconsin. Van Valkenburg said the cancellation was the first for the American Birkebeiner; although, in 1981 race officials postponed the race for two weeks due to poor skiing conditions; and in 1998, warm weather forced organizers to shorten the course. In 2000, several events did take place including the Salomon Elite Sprints, the Hayward Chamber of Commerce/Madshus Citizen Sprints, the Sons of Norway/Swiss Miss Barnebirkie, and the first Junior Birkie. The inaugural Junior Birkie attracted a field of less than 100 boys and girls, yet the spectators and competitors will never forget the day. Hayward's C.J. Waggoner needed a shovel, as well as his poles and skis in order to win the inaugural Junior Birkie. “I had to come out here and shovel snow before my race," remembers Waggoner. During the 2000 Junior Birkie, Scott Wilson recalls assisting Kevin Brochman record finish times on a clipboard and using hand-­‐held stopwatches, while parents stood in puddles at the start line, in the pouring rain, holding umbrellas for their young skiers. After the race, Wilson proudly proclaimed, “Aside from the weather, and having to haul in snow from near and far, the first Junior Birkie was truly a success story.” The 2001 Junior Birkie greeted skiers with plenty of snow, a well-­‐groomed course, and a sunny, cloudless sky. Thanks to a grant from the Herbert H. Kohl Charities, Fish Hatchery Park in Hayward, Wisconsin staged the second running of the Junior Birkie on February 23, 2001. The ski course and the individual start format remained similar to the previous year, featuring moderately rolling terrain, and grooming for both classical and freestyle techniques. The weather was certainly colder than the balmy February temperatures from the last season, but the enthusiasm generated by 108 skiers, aged 10 to 15 was much greater. The field consisted of 55 boys and 53 girls. Scott Wilson took his race expertise to the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah during the winter of 2002; therefore, he called upon his close friend, Dennis Kruse, to become the race chief and announcer for the Junior Birkie 2002. Kruse, at that time, was the vice president of the American Birkebeiner Foundation, and already had Birkie duties that needed his attention at Telemark Resort in Cable, Wisconsin, including the opening ceremonies and the Birkie Expo. As a result, he incorporated the ski trails at to the Telemark Resort, as the new race venue for the Junior Birkie. To add to the excitement of a new venue, the Junior Birkie named Century Tel the race sponsor and an Alberta Clipper hovered over central Wisconsin. The storm left behind eight fresh inches of snow, but Bill Pierce, President of the American Birkie Foundation worked his grooming magic with the Pisten Bully and Jack Moin fine-­‐tuned the course with his Tidd Tech. The 2002 Junior Birkie event was highly successful, and Telemark Resort became its new home. A High School Team Relay event, open to skiers in grades 9-­‐12, made its debut as an addition to the Junior Birkie schedule in 2004, and drew a very competitive field of skiers from schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Each skier in a three-­‐person team traversed a 1.5-­‐kilometer loop, tagging off to the next skier of his or her team in front of the flagpoles at the Telemark stadium. Scott Wilson and the CXC Competition Committee realized the Junior Birkie had become one of the biggest events of the season for Midwest skiers’ ages 15 and younger. To accommodate more skiers participating in the Junior Birkie, CXC incorporated additional age categories into the event by establishing the Central Cross Country Skiing Championship for skiers ages 12-­‐13 (J3) and ages 10-­‐11(J4) for both boys and girls. Kids participate in cross country skiing events because skiing is fun and exciting. According to Brian Fish, U.S. Ski Team Development Coach, “Skiing is the ‘cool’ thing to do in the wintertime with friends. It is a time to slide and glide, and it is a time to laugh and play outside. Skiing is the type of fun that is energizing and excites kids, and keeps friends and families skiing together.” To include more fun and competition into cross country skiing, in 2006, the Junior Birkie added another twist to the schedule of events, the CXC Central High School Championships. The top athletes, from their respective State Championships in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio were invited to race. The pursuit-­‐style event began with a 3 km mass start free technique race, skiers then changed to classic skis and poles in a stadium transition area, and finished with a 3 km classic race. The first skier to cross the finish line claimed the title of CXC Central High School Champion. “We were really excited about this opportunity for kids to ski head-­‐to-­‐head,” said Scott Wilson. Telemark Resort continued to be the venue of choice for the Junior Birkie and the High School Relays until 2014, when a major snowfall made transportation for volunteers and participants traveling to Telemark nearly impossible. Junior Birkie Race Chief Everett Meyer reluctantly canceled the events scheduled for Telemark Resort. Although, with a quick response from the American Birkebeiner Foundation and the grooming crew, headed by Chris Campbell, the Gear West Junior Birkie event proceeded with an untimed race held on Main Street in downtown Hayward. Over 75 hearty young skiers skied out Main Street and followed the Barnebirkie race course on the city golf course. Considering the last minute change, Media P-­‐R Director and Sponsorship Director Susan Kendrick said, “Participation was great, and although the event was untimed, skiers were happy to keep the tradition of the Junior Birkie alive.” As the Junior Birkie continues to grow in popularity with young skiers and families, the American Birkebeiner Foundation continues to embrace the competitive spirit of the event. In 2015, look for further improvements. Due to the positive response from families, participants, and spectators, the American Birkebeiner Foundation decided to keep the 2015 Junior Birkie in downtown Hayward; in addition, the 11th annual High School Sprint Relays will take place on entirely on Main Street. For the second year, Gear West will be the Junior Birkie sponsor, which will start behind the Hayward Elementary School, the same location as the Barnebirkie, and finish on Main Street. Skiers will have several race options: 1 km (U8/U10), 3 km (U12/U14/U16), and 5 km (U19). The High School Sprint Relays will start and finish on Main Street, immediately following the Junior Birkie mass start races. The 2015 Junior Birkie is part of the CXC Youth Cup, a series of eleven races developed in cooperation with the Minnesota Youth Ski League and CXC to promote health and fitness for youth across the Midwest. The CXC Youth Cup offers athletes ages 10-­‐13 (U12 and U14) the opportunity to experience and explore the excitement of travel, friendship, and competition associated with CXC/USSA events and races. The series promises to engage youth athletes in a "Nordic lifestyle" that includes pre-­‐race and post-­‐race activities, as well as fun, excitement, and friendship in a welcoming competitive atmosphere. From its humble beginning at Fish Hatchery Park sixteen years ago, the Junior Birkie continues to grow, and has become a premier Midwest youth event. Junior Birkie Participation Summary 2000 65 total skiers Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15 Hatchery Park Sponsor: TNT Video and from song proceeds, “Ode to Tony Wise and Birkie Trail” 2001 53 girls / 55 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15 Hatchery Park Sponsor: Herbert H. Kohl Charities 2002 55 girls / 63 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15 Telemark Resort
Sponsor: 2003 71 girls / 76 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15 Telemark Resort
Sponsor: 2004 103 girls / 106 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 7 girls/13 boys Sponsor: CenturyTel 2005 106 girls / 93 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 17 girls/17 boys Sponsor: CenturyTel 2006 116 girls / 113 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 17 girls/16 boys CXC Central Pursuit Championships: 11 boys / 8 girls invited from WI, MI, & IL Sponsor: CenturyTel 2007 118 girls / 112 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 7 girls / 9 boys Sponsor: CenturyTel 2008 112 girls / 116 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 Telemark Resort
HS Relays: 8 girls / 9 boys * First year of mass start racing Sponsor: CenturyTel 2009 149 girls / 134 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 8 girls / 8 boys Sponsor: CenturyTel 2010 140 girls / 165 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 8 girls / 10 boys Sponsor: Century Link 2011 118 girls / 156 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 Telemark Resort HS Relays: 12 girls / 8 boys Sponsor: Century Link 2012 2013 2014 2015 92 girls / 125 boys Categories: 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18; J3; J4 HS Relays: 9 girls / 8 boys Sponsor: Century Link Telemark Resort 123 girls / 181 boys Categories: 8-­‐9; 10-­‐12; 13-­‐15; 16-­‐18 Categories: J3; J4; J5 HS Relays: 4 girls / 11 boys Sponsor: Century Link Telemark Resort Untimed event in downtown Hayward due to snowstorm Main Street HS Relays: Cancelled Sponsor: Gear West __ girls / __ boys Categories: U8; U10; U12; U14; U16; U19 Main Street HS Relays: __ girls / __ boys CXC Youth Cup: U12; U14 Sponsor: Gear West