Some teams have competition amongst themselves over the course of a season. Teammates push each other to do better in practice, performing at meets, in games, and in everything related to their sport. The Men’s Cross Country team has something much better: the Cobber Games.
The storied Cobber Games entered its 14th year of existence this season with competition for the prize as fierce as ever.
“I was looking for a team building activity, a team bonding activity, something outside of practice,” said coach Garrick Larson, the creator of the competition. “Sometimes the guys— sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t— get competitive at practice, and actually these Cobber Games aren’t all based on athletic ability or distance running ability. It gives everybody kind of an equal chance to be competitive with each other but to have fun at the same time.”
The Cobber Games run the length of the season and include a wide variety of games. The seniors usually draft teams of three in a snake draft order. Points are awarded based on finishes. First place gets one point, second place gets two points, and so on. The team with the lowest amount of points at the end claims the title of Cobber Games Champion.
Games and events include epic contests like “Cabbage or Lettuce,” “Home Run Derby” and “Blind-Bean-Bag Tag.”
“I think he [Larson] spends more time figuring out Cobber Games than he does on our workouts or anything. I’m serious about this,” senior Caleb Giesen said.
Larson described how he came up with the idea for the competition.
“It’s loosely based on [what] I’d heard of a couple other teams were doing [for] fun games,” he said. “We started with five or six games the first year and now we have something like ten or twelve or fourteen.”
The content of the competition has fluctuated over the years, but Larson has some favorite games.
“Most of them are the same epic contests [like] the egg toss, coach challenge and van push. Those are ones that they’ll probably never give up on,” he said. “Some of the other ones have come and gone, but the core’s kind of still there.”
Seniors of the team start preparing and strategizing for the Games from the start of preseason, which shows the importance of the completion.
“Oh, [what happens at] Park Rapids is you get there and basically from the get-go you’re scouting freshman to see,” Giesen said about the first week of preseason for the team. “We’ll play volleyball to see if guys are athletic to maybe figure somebody’s event. The freshman I chose first, he was a juggler. He was just juggling rocks all week long so I was like, ‘You know he’s got some dexterity. He’s got some hand eye coordination. So, I’m gonna go with this guy first pick.’”
Other members of the team had slightly different scouting strategies.
“You want to have them fairly decent at running too, if possible, because of the running events, so just a well rounded athlete is sort of what you’re looking for,” defending champion Ben Ehlers said of his picks.
On the surface, the Cobber Games seem like an amusing break from practice and workouts, but the seriousness of the completion starts at the top with Coach Larson. In emails that include updates on standings, he includes record holders from previous years and statistics from the competitions.
“Just for fun, me personally. I love stats, I love numbers and I love history, so part of it’s just me,” Larson said of his meticulous record keeping. “The records and what happened last year and in previous years kind of provide historical reference for our guys. They start to recognize names from the past, and I’m a big proponent of alumni relations,” he said. “It provides perspective like any other record or track record or cross country race time; I mean historically like from another alumni from outside the era just provides perspective.”
The history and enthusiasm about the Games trickle down to the team as a whole.
“It’s extremely serious actually,” Ehlers said. “I mean I’ve won it, I can tell you that this last year has been just fantastic. It’s the notoriety and honor; it really feels good.”
Fellow senior Jake Stunek tasted bitter defeat last year
“For a person who has been here, this is my fourth year now, not winning it and coming so close last year,” he said. “It hurts to not win it, and you know it’s big.”
First place earns the winning team the honor of having their name engraved on the Cobber Games trophy, a glorious golden corn cob, and each member receives a plaque commemorating the victory. Though the plaque isn’t worth as much as the ability to rub it in your teammate’s faces. Giesen and Ehlers are roommates, and Giesen was reminded constantly of his failure to win the competition.
“Definitely bragging rights,” Giesen said of what meant the most about winning the completion. “You talk so much smack on your team, and [you’re] trash talking the whole time about everything [the rest of the year].”
The competition definitely grows in intensity as the season progresses.
“It starts out… a little not as competitive, but once it gets tighter, like the standings get tighter towards the end,” Stunek said, “the last few events just get really crazy.”
Even though the competitiveness is evident and is both joking and completely serious at times, Larson enjoys and has continued to enjoy the Cobber Games this long for other reasons.
“It’s just the smiles and the laughter really. You know and kind of not [know] the hardcore ‘me, I’m out to get you’ competitiveness, but that playful competitiveness is really fun. [It’s] fun for the team [and] fun to watch.”
As for who the favorite is for this year, Ehlers and Stunek both had something to say about winning the title.
“I plan on it,” Stunek said.
“I plan on it as well,” Ehlers said.