Esko runners may have a homecoming tradition afoot


October 6, 2023

Brady Slater

Esko cross country team members run down Highway 61 near Esko last Friday as they toted the homecoming game football from Two Harbors to the field in Esko, about 47 miles.

When Esko assistant coach Liz Kyes shared how her high school cross country team would run the game ball from the opposing team's school to the homecoming game each year, head coach Jerimy Hallsten was intrigued.

But first he had to find out whom Esko would play for homecoming.

"If it's International Falls, that's a game changer," Hallsten said of the town 160 miles away.

Luckily, it was Two Harbors.

With his team excited by the idea, Hallsten mapped a 47-mile course from Two Harbors to Esko, taking the scenic route along Lake Superior to Duluth's Brighton Beach, then jumping on and off the bike trail through the city and following snowmobile trails and Highway 61 into Esko.

They wore matching T-shirts and some face paint for the occasion, with resting runners and coaches in two vans. In more confusing parts of the route, a coach biked with them.

"We planned legs - distances where they hand off the ball - and had kids sign up in pairs," Hallsten said. "Then it started happening where four or five joined, or the whole team, especially once we got to Duluth. The kids really got into it."

Instead of running 6 to 8 miles each, his 14 seniors, juniors and sophomores ran anywhere from 12 to 20 miles each. For most of them, it was the farthest they had run in a day.

Amber Nichols

Jacion Owens dives toward the end zone Friday night as Esko defeated Two Harbors 32-3.

The team got to Esko in seven hours. The rest of the cross country team joined them to run from the high school to the 5 p.m. football game, where captain Spencer Hipp handed the ball to the center before the opening kickoff.

"All the support from the school, community and other athletic teams was pretty neat," Hallsten said.

Next year Esko will likely play Hibbing for homecoming. That's 70 miles away.

Just like before this year's game, Hallsten started pondering the possibilities. Maybe the opposing school's cross country team could meet them somewhere? There's probably enough daylight to make a 70-mile run, he mused.

"I'd love to do it again," he said.

Find more photos of Esko Homecoming and the game ball run online at


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