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One more game, one good cause

<i>Dave Newman photo</i> Ben Wunrow (30) pursues a South ball carrier while playing for the North Division 1-3 team in the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association All-Star Game Saturday night in Oshkosh. The North defeated the South, 22-20, in overtime.

Ben Wunrow cherished every moment of his time in Oshkosh last week.

Wunrow was one of five Big Rivers Conference players selected to represent the North large school squad at the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Charity All-Star Game Saturday night at J.J. Keller Field on the campus of UW-Oshkosh.

After a week of practice and getting to know his teammates, Wunrow took the field with the rest of the best seniors in Wisconsin for Saturday night's game.

"It was very emotional," Wunrow said. "I came out of the locker room and there were thousands of fans and the lights were on. It was like Friday night lights all over again only it was Saturday. I loved it; it was a great way to end my career."

Wunrow, a two-time All-Big Rivers Conference linebacker and All-Region pick his senior year with the Wildcats, picked academics over athletics and will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall to study environmental studies. So last week was the last time he would strap up the pads and hit the football field.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I got down there Sunday and didn't know a lot of people, but I left Saturday and had formed a lot of new friendships. It was a great game and a great experience."

Wunrow helped the North Division 1-3 team, led by Somerset head coach Bruce Larson, defeat the South, 22-20 in overtime. He recorded 1-1/2 tackles, including a sack for a loss of four yards.

"I played interior defensive lineman," he said. "It was a little different, but I think I was a lot quicker than those 300 pound guys on the offensive line."

Wunrow said he was one of five players who split time at two positions, meaning everybody got to play about half the game.

"I was fortunate enough to start, but we all ended up playing the same amount of time," he said.

In addition to highlighting the top seniors in the state, the WFCA All-Star Game also serves as a fundraiser for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. This year the players helped raise over $350,000 for the cause.

Wunrow said the South team might have had more talent, but the North came together as a team to win the game in overtime.

"Looking at the numbers, there were 28 all-state players on the South team and the North had only about eight or nine," he said. "We played as a team. In the second and third quarter a lot of guys on the South started pointing fingers at each other. That never happened with us. It was sweet to be a part of."

Wunrow, who also lettered in basketball and baseball for the Wildcats, said playing in the game alongside and against the best seniors in the state proved that he could play football in college, but has no regrets about giving up the sport to concentrate on academics.

"There was a lot of great talent down there and I held my own," he said. "Going to the U of M was a big decision. Some colleges that looked at me, academically they weren't where I wanted to be. I could go to college and play football and get a decent education, or I could really concentrate on academics and get a great education."

Wunrow's late grandfather, Ron Wunrow, was a longtime coach and athletic director at River Falls High School and his father, Dan, also played for the Wildcats. He said being a part of that legacy is something he will always cherish.

"All the people who knew my grandpa and said he was a great guy and I'd make him proud. That feels good," he said. "I never really knew him because I was young when he died. But it's nice to live in the same city and play for the same team as my dad and grandpa; it's a great feeling."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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