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Two families unite to compete in 'Potato Lake Olympics'

Peter Nyhus, the commissioner of the Olympic games, still wears the original jersey he wore during the 1983 family Olympics. Above, he explains the rules for bingo to the grandchildren. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)1 / 2
Grandchildren of long-time friends Peter Nyhus and Jerry Pederson completed the fifth annual "Potato Lake Summer Olympics" last week. Back row, from left, Amara Lipsey, Hunter Pederson, Trey Donahe, Mary Nyhus and Carter Pederson. Middle row, from left, Phaedra Lipsey (holding Audrey Donahe), Teagan Lipsey and Tamin Lipsey. Front row, Cole Donahe. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)2 / 2

A tradition spanning nearly 30 years continues to bond two families on Potato Lake - the Summer Olympics.

Peter Nyhus and Jerry Pederson, who had coaching jobs together at Valley City State College in the 1970s, became close friends.

"I was the head football coach and Jerry was the head basketball coach," Nyhus said.

Their families became close as well and the first Olympics competition between the families was Dec. 31, 1983.

At that time, Nyhus and Pederson organized games for their children and had special shirts made for the event.

Nyhus was the commissioner and Pederson was the assistant commissioner. The games were just a fun way for the kids to spend New Year's Eve, Nyhus said.

Fast forward 26 years.

The Nyhus and Pederson families, still close as ever, just completed the fifth annual Potato Lake Summer Olympics for the grandkids. The games are held the first week of August at Nyhus's Potato Lake home, which is two doors down from Pederson's home.

In college, Nyhus took a class called "Games of Low Organization," which helped him figure out games for the Olympics.

"When we thought of these Olympics, all they are is silly little games that anyone can do," he said.

Guessing the number of gummy bears in a jar, playing Bingo and a bean bag toss are some of the games.

Nyhus continues to wear his original referee jersey from 1983. The grandchildren are wearing the original t-shirts as well.

"We wanted the grandkids to have the same experience as their parents," he said.

The Potato Lake Summer Olympics are becoming more elaborate each year.

Five years ago, they found ribbons to give the participants. The next year, they got felt ribbons.

"Then, little Amara, who was watching the winter Olympics asked her grandpa Jerry if they were going to get real medals next year," Nyhus said.

So, they did.

This year, Phaedra, was the winner of the 2009 Olympics. She received a trophy. All the grandkids receive medals.

"There's gotta be other grandparents who get grandkids at the lake," Nyhus said. "Maybe someone else could do something similar."

Now, the grandchildren look forward to the Potato Lake Summer Olympics each year.