March 31, 2006

Contributed and written by Jesse Bodell, Class of 1996

It was the fall of 1995, two weeks before the rivalry game between Hermantown and Proctor. I was sitting next to my friend, Jeremy Buboltz, at the night’s volleyball game at the high school. The topic of conversation was “The Rivalry.”

We talked in great detail about some of the great rivalry’s in sports — Lakers vs Celtics, Yankees vs Red Sox, Ohio State vs Michigan, Hermantown vs Proctor. Each of these unique in its own way, these games represent the pinnacle of passion in their players and fans.

Magnified to a greater extent, the passion for college football’s rivalries are unparalleled. Our conversation turned to the rich tradition of the traveling trophy games. Unusual names for trophies like the Little Brown Jug, Old Oaken Bucket and the Telephone Trophy have been part of football for as far back as fans can remember.

The topic of the trophy game spurred a question. “Why don’t Hermantown and Proctor play for a trophy?” The rivalry already had plenty of intensity with its participants virtually even in wins since the first game of 1942, but maybe a new wrinkle would enhance the spirit of the game. A trophy was that wrinkle.

What makes up a good trophy? Local flavor, quirkiness, the ability for the victor to hoist it in the air in celebration… We pondered what the trophy could be. The schools’ mascots share nothing in common. As great as the two cities are, geographical uniqueness is something that isn’t a strong point. A set of train tracks are the only thing that really connects the cities together. Maybe it’s something railway related. Maybe a piece of rail? Too heavy. A spike? Too small. What about the hammer that drives the spike into the railroad tie? That was it. A sledge hammer.

A regular sledge hammer wouldn’t be good enough. It had to be mythic in proportions. Remembering an old folktale, this would be John Henry’s hammer — a behemoth that would dwarf anyone who hoisted it.

As Hermantown’s volleyball team defeated yet another opponent, Jeremy and I departed. The idea was there. It was going to take effort to get this project done. The game was only two weeks away. The next morning I brought the idea up with the athletic director, Gary Bowen. He was enthusiastic and said that he would take the matter up with Proctor. Later in the day, Proctor’s initial response was positive. The Hammer game was a go.

Now it was time to design the Hammer. It needed to be an enlarged replica of a real sledgehammer so I found one in the garage and took measurements from every angle. I then enlarged the proportions until the object would stand a towering six feet.

With little time to construct the Hammer, I needed materials. Bruce Pylka, instructor of Hermantown’s woods classes, was eager to help providing enough oak to make the project happen. I now had the idea and the means to produce a trophy.

Being only moderately skilled in woodworking, I turned to the help of my dad, Ron Bodell, for help in the construction. His help and equipment were instrumental. Together, we figured out a strategy in building the oblong cylindrical handle and the patented shape of the hammer head.

By laminating the oak into a solid handle, it would be strong. It was also very heavy. We realized this thing would be a beast to carry. But that was fine. It supposed to be mythic. The head was a challenge. With the weight of the Hammer, it would be susecptible to damage if it fell or was struck against a solid object. Some reinforcement was in order. Hidden beneath the smooth oak surface is a series of screws that connect the head to the handle. Durability wouldn’t be an issue now. After plenty of sanding, a giant hammer now lay on the garage floor. An impressive sight it was. With the game only a week away, more work was still ahead.

The Hammer still needed the finishing touches of tradition that make a trophy worth playing for. Scores from every game would adorn the handle with the idea that each year, the teams would vie to add their name to the legend. I did research from high school yearbooks and newspapers to get scores from 1994 all the way back to the first Hermantown—Proctor game of 1942. The long list of scores revealed why the rivalry is so intense. The teams were in a dead heat when it came to wins in the series. Vinyl letters were applied to the handle and the scores were set.

For the head of the Hammer, an identifying trait was necessary. A football with the words “The Hammer arcing above was designed — something that would symbolize the trophy as a football icon when it rested in the trophy case. To identify the teams that would duel for the Hammer, I painted the schools’ logos on opposite ends of the head. The words Hermantown and Proctor accompanied the logos. As a final touch, many layers of polyurethane were applied to keep the fall dampness away from the wood. The Hammer was now complete — only days before the game.

A week prior, Proctor’s athletic director was open to the Hammer game. Apparently coach Dave Hylla hadn’t weighed in on that decision. Proctor’s tune changed as Hylla indicated that the Rails would not be playing for the trophy that season. I was frustrated and I perceived that so much work had gone to waste. Hermantown coach Randy Bowen, had a different perspective, which brought my spirit back up. His team was a heavy underdog to a very good Proctor squad. A little incentive wouldn’t hurt in motivating his team. Despite Proctor’s decline of the trophy, the Hawks were playing for it anyway. The Hammer was present at all the practices leading up to the game and the players were fired up over this new opportunity. More fuel was added to the fire as Hylla was quoted in the newspaper as saying that if Proctor won, he’d use the Hammer as firewood at home.

The game was at Proctor’s Terry Eggerdahl Field. The night was cool but great for football. As I arrived, a smile formed on my face as the Hammer stood vertical upon its head on the Hawks’ sideline. It was for real now. What was once an idea between friends was now the beginning of a tradition.

The game was a defensive struggle highlighted by key passes from Kevin White to Kasey Witchall. Eric Griffith had a key interception to seal the game. The Hawks were victorious and as the final seconds elapsed, they stormed the sideline in search of the Hammer. They hoisted the 25 pound trophy into the air and chanted “Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.” The celebration was furious with the players parading the Hammer around the field. This tradition has taken place by both teams since this first Hammer game as Proctor finally took hold of the idea the next year and now play for the trophy. The Hammer resides in the previous winner’s trophy case until the next regular season game.

In reflection, I think the Hammer was an undertaking with some risk. The rivalry didn’t need a trophy and some might think the idea is hokey, but it turned out to be something two cities have embraced. Today’s players feel that the trophy is tradition and fight to put their school as the victor every year. I had fun building the Hammer and am glad to have been a part of the rich history of Hawk football.

Thanks for the help dad.