By Kelly Lafferty
Tribune staff writer
\Minnesota isn’t a high school basketball coach, but he very well could be.
He stands, claps, kneels, jumps and waves his hands around. Throughout the game, he shouts encouragement and advice to the players, and makes sure the referees know when they’ve made a bad call.
He may not technically be a coach, but he’s definitely Kokomo High School sports super fan.
Minnesota, whose real name is Rick Cardwell, got his nickname when he’d go to Foster Park to watch fast pitch softball games. He’d talk about the Minnesota Twins all the time, so people started calling him Minnesota, and it stuck.
For decades, Minnesota has sat in the front row of the north side of Memorial Gym, underneath the basket and yelled his support for Kokomo, while giving the team direction too.
“They may not do exactly what I say, but they know I’m yelling,” he said. “I’m cheering for them.”
Before the start of the game, Minnesota will stretch out his legs, which according to him is an important factor, along with caffeine, in being a super fan.
“You gotta get yourself stretched out and ready to go, you don’t wanna be jumping up and down and get hurt,” he said. “Of course sometimes, you take a drink of Coke or something, get fired up. In case you have a sore throat or something, you get yourself some lemon juice.”
According to Minnesota, the less people on the front row of the bleachers, the better, that way he can move around more, and so the players can definitely hear him while he yells for them to shoot the ball, get the rebound, block out, follow through or defend.
“He’s basically Coach McCauley under the basket,” Kokomo senior guard LaBradford Sebree said. “Just yelling, so energetic. He just wants the best for us. I think he takes plays off like we do at halftime. I think that’s when he gets his rest. Then when we’re back, he’s right back at it with us.”
Kokomo fans are fairly used to Minnesota’s personality at the games, but at the away games, it’s a whole new fan base.
“No matter where I go, if I’ve been there once, they’ll remember me,” Minnesota said.
Kokomo’s athletic director and girls basketball coach Jason Snyder has people come up to him at games asking if Minnesota will be there.
“I think often times, people are memorable when they are passionate about something,” Snyder said. “He’s always respectful to the other teams, to other administration, to the other coaches. He doesn’t yell at them. He tries to support Kokomo.”
Sometimes, though opposing fans aren’t very supportive of Minnesota cheering so loudly and referees have told him before to sit down on the bleachers, if they think he’s too close to the floor.
“There’s been some of them that wish I would just shut up,” Minnesota said. “I just turn around and say thank you and I keep on yelling. They’re not gonna quiet me down. If I get laryngitis, maybe.”
Not only is Minnesota the unofficial head cheerleader for the Kokomo Wildkats, but he records the stats in a book during every game. He keeps track of goals and free throws that are made and missed. He tallies fouls and errors for the Wildkats and their opponents.
“I can’t go to the game without the score book,” he said. “I gotta have it to know exactly what our people are doing and what the opposing people are doing. If I don’t have the book, I’m lost. It keeps me in the game.”
Minnesota has decades of old books stored away in boxes, but can remember a player’s stats off the top of his head.
“He’s told me what my batting average was when I was a senior in high school just the other day, fifteen years later,” Snyder said.
The players and coaches think Minnesota adds something special to the Kokomo sports family. He has no family members on any Kokomo team, but walks to Memorial Gym from his apartment, to cheer on the entire team.
“It shows that he cares and we’re making an impact on his life, by us playing and being a part of this team,” Sebree said. “Obviously we’re doing something right that he wants to come to our games, every game.”
It’s not just Wildkat basketball that Minnesota supports and does the books for, but he also follows baseball, softball, volleyball and soccer.
“If there is a Kokomo event that he can get to, he’ll be there and he’ll be supporting our Kokomo athletes,” Snyder said. “We have a great fan base and so many great supporters, and Minnesota definitely leads that pack.”
Minnesota says that as long as he can come to the Kokomo games, he’ll be there, supporting and guiding the high school athletes through the game.
“I think it’s nice,” said Sebree. “It’s humbling he wants to come to our games Friday or Saturday night. Obviously, he could be doing anything else, but he wants to come and watch the Kokomo Wildkats play.”
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