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SPOTLIGHT
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Title teams honored in Almena

Published on -9/16/2012, 7:12 PM

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By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

ALMENA -- They honored the school's first boys' basketball state championship team last winter.

Friday night, it was the football team's turn for Northern Valley High School.

At halftime of the Huskies' 56-6 win against Palco, the players on the 1986 and 1987 eight-man state championship teams were honored. The Huskies went on to win another title, in 1990.

Coach Chuck Fessenden, in his 37th year at Almena-Northern Valley, said all of the championships are special, but there's something about that first one.

"I think probably the first one a little more special, because we already made it to state finals (twice) before that, and we lost two times," Fessenden said.

Northern Valley lost to Midway-Denton in the title game in 1982 and 1983. Fessenden, which had used the I-formation and then adopted Midway-Denton's offense, and success soon followed.

Fessenden said having good athletes was the difference. Northern Valley won state basketball in March of 1986, then state track in May of 1986, then the first state football title in November of 1986.

"I think we had some exceptional athletes," Fessenden said. "We were real fortunate to have several classes, just back-to-back, that had really good athletes in them."

Fessenden is now 256-116 at the only school he's ever coached. A little luckier, and he could have as many as seven state titles; the Huskies have lost in the state championship game four times.

But there have been some lean years after the run of success, and the program just last year started to show signs of rebounding. Northern Valley, off to a 3-0 start, went 6-3 last year for its first winning season since 2005. The last trip to the playoffs came in 2004.

"You try to keep the attitude good, keep the kids playing hard," Fessenden said of the losing seasons. "Make sure they kind of enjoy it, even though they're not winning a lot of games. At least they can still enjoy playing. That's kind of what you got to focus on."

The state titles are still clear in Fessenden's mind. The Huskies beat Greensburg 12-10 in 1986 for the first title. A late TD pass gave the Huskies the win. The next year, it was a 20-6 win over Attica. Then, in 1990, Northern Valley beat Lost Springs-Centre in the title game.

Is winning another title possible?

"We'd like to, but I don't know that's going to be possible," Fessenden said. "There's some pretty good teams out there."

Like Northern Valley, 25 years ago.

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