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By Kelly Fenton

The Denmark News

Sometimes life pushes you in the direction you have been resisting but were probably always meant to go.

That was me in 2002 when I was mired in a decent-paying, undemanding but also unsatisfying sales job. 

Vitamins, in fact. Not a pushy person by nature and not particularly a believer in what I was selling, I coasted in the job as my journalism degree frayed around the edges on my wall.

Then the layoff that would ultimately enrich my life by forcing me, at age 45 and with nothing to lose, into the sports writing life. From the very first day – a high school baseball game in Bryant, Arkansas – I was in love and I’ve been in love ever since.

When we moved to New Jersey in 2009, I found a job with a group of community newspapers within the first month and within three months I was at Giants Stadium covering one of my high schools in the state championship. Just a few months later and it was a state hockey championship at the Prudential Center. 

Those are a couple of highlights but it’s really not the big moments that have made this life so rewarding. It’s the combination of sports, the drama surrounding them and my love of stringing words together to capture it all. Sportswriting offers us chroniclers great license and I was always thrilled to use mine, only rarely, I hope, abusing that privilege. (Though I surely did along the way).

When we moved to the much more affordable state of Wisconsin in 2017, I was in a position to retire but decided I’d put out some feelers among Fox Cities newspapers. What I mostly wanted to do was cover the occasional game as a freelancer. Turns out an enterprising fellow by the name of JC Marquez had recently purchased the Denmark News and was looking for someone that very September to take over for sports editor Alex Strouf, who was heading to college and who now can be heard talking sports on ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. 

I hit it off with JC and with newswriter Charles Collier and we all became buddies and I became their new sportswriter. The work was always a little more than I intended as I became not a freelancer but the de facto sports editor. And have remained so even as the paper transitioned to the Nelson Media Company when JC decided to pursue another career.

Alas, it is time to say so long. My life is overfilled with so much other stuff now, from four granddaughters to political activism to taking care of a fairly big yard at our house in Appleton. 

And I am getting older and the energy that once allowed for all of these coinciding passions has waned, forcing me to surrender one of those loves. 

For nearly seven years I made the 75-mile round trip to Denmark High School. It never felt like a burden, that drive, though I have found myself growing a bit wearier on some of the return trips in recent years.

As I say, the big moments are great, of course. The trip to the Kohl Center in 2019 when Denmark reached the state basketball semifinals. Covering the state wrestling tournament – also at the Kohl Center – and Gabe Wertel’s state title in 2020, just a couple of weeks before the pandemic shut it all down.

Early on in my stint I was greeted by the remarkable cross country and distance runner Leah Kralovetz and the many state titles she won. Later it was Simon Alexander and his sprinting exploits that eventually landed him at the Naval Academy.

There were of course the three state baseball championships and all the amazing games along the way. It wasn’t just the three-peat itself; it was the drama that attended it. So much tension, so much rich fodder for a sports writer. As a supposedly dispassionate journalist I can admit I was always rooting silently through those nail-biters.

I was so lucky to come along at the right time for the history those teams made.

There was the resurgence of the football program beginning in 2019 and a softball program that has been consistently excellent and entertaining every year I’ve covered them. The girls basketball program is clearly on the upswing after languishing for several seasons and the girls soccer program seems to have taken root.

The Denmark athletes were almost unanimously polite and forthcoming with me in postgame or feature interviews and their conduct in the arena and on the field was almost uniformly mature and respectful. 

I will miss all those coaches I came to admire and who were willing to speak to me after the most emotionally draining losses. I hesitate to begin a list because I don’t want to forget anyone. 

Pam Watzka was always such great support for me at the office and always got the checks out on time even while my invoices rarely were. And Jacob Heiser, who has done such an outstanding job of covering Denmark news, has been a joy to work with and a big help in the sports photography department whenever I’ve needed him. And I haven’t needed him that much because of all the gracious and talented photographers who provided us with so many striking photos.

Given that there are plenty of former Vikings doing great things at the next level (see today’s feature on Cole Paplham) I may still pop up on these pages now and then with a feature or a where-are-they-now piece.

Until then, thank you all. It has been my honor and joy.


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