Besler, McCarty, Morris join Hall of Fame
Two influential coaches and a record-breaking athlete will be inducted into the Park Rapids Panther Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jane Besler, Andy McCarty and Beth (Morris) Hirt will be the second class inducted into the Hall of Fame. All three had history-making careers at Park Rapids.
Besler began the Park Rapids girls track and field and gymnastics programs in the early 1970s and served as head coach for the Park Rapids girls cross-country team in the 1970s and 1980s.
McCarty was the head football and boys track and field coach for 17 years in the 1970s and 1980s and was the head wrestling coach for five years in the 1970s.
Hirt became the second Park Rapids female athlete to compete in state in three different sports (five times in track, four times in swimming and once in gymnastics) and set several school records in swimming and track.
The induction of these three Hall of Fame members will be among the highlights at the 31st annual All Sports Banquet May 21. Tickets for the banquet can be purchased at the Area High School office.
Also, the public is encouraged to nominate former coaches, athletes or contributors to Park Rapids athletics for consideration to the Hall of Fame. Nominees must be a Park Rapids graduate and out of school for at least 10 years, must have coached in the Park Rapids system for at least 10 seasons, or must be a member of the community who has made significant contributions to Park Rapids athletics. Nomination forms are available at the Area High School. Nomination forms can also be printed from the Park Rapids Area High School Web site (www.parkrapids.k12.mn.us) under "Athletics."
In addition to teaching physical education for 30 years, Besler was instrumental in building girls athletics at Park Rapids.
In 1972, Park Rapids hosted the District 29 track and field meet. Besler put together the first girls track team that year and the Panthers ended up winning the district title and qualifying five girls in six events for the state meet. The 880-yard relay team of Connie Knobloch, Judy Schmitz, Ann Benham and Laurel Gramm placed fourth at state that year. Gramm (440 run), Pam Pachel (80 hurdles), Benham (220 run and long jump), Sue Coleman (50 hurdles) and Pam Friday (50 hurdles and 80 hurdles) also qualified for state in the Panthers' first year.
Over the next 13 years, the Panthers qualified numerous athletes for the state meet. Park Rapids was the District 29 champs in 1973 and 1974 and won the Region 8 title in 1975. The Panthers tied for sixth place at state in 1976, tied for eighth place at state in 1977, finished 10th at state in 1978 and finished 11th at state in 1984.
Besler also started the Park Rapids gymnastics program in 1973. The Panthers scored 38.35 points in their first meet to trail New York Mills' 38.85 points and finish ahead of Detroit Lakes' 11.30 points.
In the team's first subsection meet in 1976, the Panthers scored 71.1 points to finish second behind Frazee's 84 points. Sue Lamb (floor exercise), Kathy Peterson (vault), Val Aho (vault) and Janet Blanchard (uneven parallel bars) were the first Panthers to qualify for the section meet.
Besler took over the girls cross-country program from Chuck Frisby in 1977 and led the Panthers to the Region 8AA championship. The Panthers, led by Tammy McGrane's runner-up effort and Linda Benjamin's 15th-place showing, finished eighth at the state meet that year.
Frisby, who started the cross-country program in 1975, led the Panthers to a tie for sixth place at the 1976 state meet.
Besler coached gymnastics and cross-country for six years.
McCarty became known for turning struggling programs into successful programs.
McCarty had winning seasons at Red Lake Falls and Parkers Prairie before taking over as head coach of the Park Rapids football program in 1970. McCarty led the Panthers to a 104-60 record over the next 17 years, including a 90-33 mark the last 14 years.
The Panthers won the Mid-State Conference title six times, were section champs five times and qualified for the state playoffs five times (1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984). The highlight of those years was reaching the state Class A championship game in 1983 where the Panthers lost to Hutchinson 36-14 in the title game.
As the head boys track and field coach from 1970-87, McCarty led the Panthers to five Mid-State Conference titles and three region championships. McCarty coached Park Rapids' first state track champion when Paul Carter won the mile run in 1973. McCarty capped off his coaching career by leading the Panthers to the state Class A True Team title in 1987. The Panthers tied for 25th place at the state Class A meet that year. Park Rapids also tied for 12th place at the state Class AA meet in 1983 and finished 13th at the state Class AA meet in 1984.
McCarty also served as the Panthers' head wrestling coach from 1972-77, leading Park Rapids to its first district title. After serving as head coach, McCarty officiated wrestling matches, including several state tournaments.
McCarty, who won multiple conference and region Coach of the Year awards in football and track, was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000, the Moorhead State University Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
Beth (Morris) Hirt
Morris became a fixture at state meets during her high school career.
As an eighth grader in 1994, Morris qualified for the state track meet and placed fourth in the high jump while running on the state-qualifying 4 x 400 relay team. Morris was also a Mid-State Conference swimmer that year.
As a freshman in 1994-95, Morris competed in three state meets. Morris earned all-conference honors in swimming and qualified for state in the 100 breaststroke. She was an all-conference honorable mention gymnast and competed at state on the team that won the Section 8A title. In the spring, Morris was a member of the Panthers' state-champion 4 x 200 relay team and placed ninth in the 100 hurdles at the state meet.
Morris returned to state in two sports as a sophomore in 1995-96, earning all-conference honors in swimming and qualifying for state in the 100 breaststroke and earning all-conference honors in track and qualifying for state in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and in the 4 x 200 relay, which placed ninth. Morris was also an all-conference gymnast that year.
As a junior during the 1996-97 season, Morris repeated as an all-conference swimmer and finished 12th at state in the 100 breaststroke. Morris earned all-conference honors in track and placed at state in the 100 hurdles (fourth) and 300 hurdles (11th).
Morris capped off her high school career in style as a senior by earning all-conference honors in swimming, basketball and track. In swimming, Morris was named the Section 8A Athlete of the Meet after swimming to four winning times. At the state meet, Morris was the runner-up in the 100 breaststroke and also placed in the 200 individual medley (15th), 200 freestyle relay (sixth) and 400 medley relay (seventh). Morris still holds the school record in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. In track, Morris won the state title in the 300 hurdles and finished third in the 100 hurdles while also qualifying in the triple jump. Morris still holds school records in all three events.
Morris was named Park Rapids' 1998 Female Student Athlete.
After graduating from Park Rapids, Morris continued her athletic career at the University of North Dakota where she was a six-time NCAA Division II national champion and 13-time Division II All-American in swimming.
Morris won the national title in the 100 breaststroke in 1999 by tying the national record time and was a qualifier for the 2000 United States Olympic Trials, where she finished 79th. Morris was the national runner-up in the 100 breaststroke in 2000, finished fourth in 2001 and won the national title again in 2002. She also swam on UND's national champion 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay teams in 1999 and 2000. Morris also placed at the national meet in the 200 breaststroke (fifth in 1999 and ninth in 2000) and in the 200 medley relay (third in 2001 and fifth in 2002) and 400 medley relay (fourth in 2001 and seventh in 2002). Morris also set North Central Conference records in the 100 breaststroke, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay and was the conference champ in the 100 breaststroke in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Morris also competed in track at UND, qualifying for the NCAA Division II indoor meet in the 60 hurdles in 2003 while setting school records in the 55 hurdles, 60 hurdles, 100 hurdles and pentathlon. Morris also placed at the NCC meet in the 100 hurdles (ninth in 2000, seventh in 2001 and fourth in 2003) and 60 hurdles (fifth in 2003). Morris was also an Academic All-American all four years at UND.