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Packer Pipeline: WF boys soccer team constructs entrance tunnel to playing field

West Fargo soccer players exit a tunnel at the beginning of a recent game against Fargo North. The tunnel was designed and built by Packer players, and completed shortly before the season started. Dave Wallis/The Forum

What started off as a joke between some West Fargo athletes has suddenly become reality - and created quite a buzz.

Immediately before the beginning of fall varsity sports season, the Packers boys soccer completed construction of an entrance tunnel to their playing field. Made from a motley bunch of plywood and two-by-fours, the long, rectangular tube is a feat of ingenuity and backwoods engineering.

"We've had two home matches, you know, and the other coaches are kind of like, 'wow, let's go take a look,'" West Fargo coach Doug Millar said.

The tunnel runs underneath the Lodoen Center bleachers, and exits through a gate in the chain-link fence that surrounds the field. Though the builders admit it isn't much to look at from the outside, the interior is something else.

"We literally finished painting it about an hour before our first home game," said senior midfielder Jade Johnson. "(Other teams) seem to like it. They walk through it and all have smiles on their faces."

Johnson and fellow senior Braden Schmid, Packers goalkeeper, were the brainpower behind the building effort. The two captains were waiting to either be named to the junior varsity or varsity team, when they played around with the idea of creating an entrance tunnel.

"The first idea was to dig a tunnel - that was the joke," Johnson said.

"Obviously, that wasn't going to happen," Schmid said, laughing.

Still waiting for their names to be called, the dynamic duo began snooping around the Lodoen Center grounds.

"We were walking around the field and checking out how wet it was, and we found that gate, and we were like, 'here we go - we got it,'" Johnson said.

The gate was just the ticket the impromptu contractors were looking for. It was centrally located beneath the bleachers, and gave way to a clear path through the surrounding substructure. With permission from the groundskeepers - as well as strict orders that no structural damage would occur and that staff still could pass through the bleachers - Johnson and Schmid gathered some help and got to work making their mark.

"The boys actually did all the purchasing and salvaging of wood," Millar said.

Schmid works for a construction company during the summer, and managed to scrounge up some scraps through it. Parents also contributed to the project.

"We just took boards from anyone's houses," Schmid said.

It took three days to finish the endeavor, but the last coats of green and white paint were dry by the time West Fargo's home opener against Fargo Davies kicked off Aug. 24.

Since then, word of the tunnel has spread, and fan support has been positive.

"The talk of it actually probably has more people coming to our games," Johnson said.

Schmid agreed.

"We definitely have more fans this year than we've ever had," he said.

The uptick in fan support has been greatly appreciated by the Packers, and even has translated to some fresh excitement on the field.

"The fans make a huge difference. When there's no fans at your games, you're just kind of like 'ok, we're here to play,'" Schmid said. "But when you get the cheering and the yelling, your emotions get into the game so much more."

"Now that we have fans, the celebrations after we score have gotten a whole lot cooler, too," Johnson said. "It gets our whole team pumped up."

Whatever the case - be it fan support, a fresh tunnel, or team chemistry - West Fargo arguable is having one of its better seasons. With recent wins over Fargo South and Fargo Davies, the Packers are sitting at 4-1-0 in Eastern Dakota Conference play, and 4-1-2 overall.

"It's definitely our year; as long as we show up for every game," said Schmid, who last week shut out the Bruins and Eagles, while racking up 13 saves overall.

"We've also picked up the intensity in practices, too," said Johnson, who scored West Fargo's second goal at the end of the second half against Davies on Saturday. Senior Dhurim Mani had the Packers' first goal.

Senior forward Austin Dillard scored West Fargo's game-winner against South, at 32 minutes in the first half. Tarley Gaye got the assist.

The Packers were scheduled to host EDC-leading Fargo Shanley (4-0-0, 6-0-1) on Tuesday, but results were not in by press time. West Fargo then hosts the West Fargo invitational on Friday-Saturday. The Packers take on Mandan on Friday at 3:30 p.m. On Saturday, West Fargo battles Bismarck St. Mary's at 9 a.m., and Minot at 1 p.m.

The Packers finally hit the road on Monday to play Grand Forks Red River (2-1-1, 5-3-2) at 6 p.m. The last time these two teams met, the Roughriders handed West Fargo a 2-0 loss, setting off an alarm through the West Fargo ranks.

"We had our one fluke, our hiccup," Schmid said. "We realized we were going to have to wake up or this was not going to happen.

"Ever since that game, it's been going pretty well."

Though the Packers will continue to work on improving their game, the tunnel will remain unchanged.

"Well, it shouldn't be torn down," Schmid said. "It's just the fact of how long the wood actually lasts. It'll be up for our year, at least."

In fact, the Packers are passing the torch to next year's team to continue the tradition started in 2010.

"As long as the seniors pull through ... everyone can add on to it and keep it going," Johnson said. "We'll give it to them."