In the past 70 years of full-time sports reporting at the Detroit Lakes Tribune only three writers have held the position. Brian Wierima had the unenviable task of taking over for Ralph Anderson after his nearly 50 years at the helm.
Wierima worked with Ralph for two years while Anderson was part-time prior to retirement and began an 18-year journey with Laker sports.
“It was great when I did stories and needed background. I’d just have to ask Ralph or he’d pull something out of a file for graphics. He was a great help,” said Wierima.
It was also a hindrance as Wierima heard plenty of comments from people in the community on the size of the shoes he had to fill. That was not a task he was really trying to take on.
“My mindset was I wanted to change the paper to what benefited me,” said Wierima. “If I would have done the same thing Ralph did I wouldn’t have made it. That was his thing for 47 years; you can’t replicate that.”
With the backing of publisher Dennis Winskowski, Wierima set about making the sports pages his own.
“Dennis was really supportive of this,” he said. “I could change it to my image. I was heavily influenced by Star Tribune sports and that’s kind of what I wanted to do. I just closed my ears and did my thing. People accepted it, but it took a while.”
Starting with Anderson did help ease the change.
“It was a good transition because he still had “Standing by in sports” in the paper for two years,” said Wierima.
The first fortnight on the job provided Brian a crash course on just what that full transition was going to entail, not just to local readers.
“I didn’t know who Ralph Anderson was when I interviewed for the job,” he said. “By the second week, I kind of caught on when the governor declared it Ralph Anderson Day.”
Anderson continued his columns and was also in charge of the Spotlight magazine, a four-day print tab distributed Thursday through Sunday during the Pine to Palm golf tournament.
“The hardest transition was after Ralph passed away,” said Wierima. “It was a month before Pine to Palm and I had to do the Spotlight. That was very difficult to try to change, because you couldn’t. I actually ran old columns of his in Spotlight my first few years.”
The going got a little rough in taking the Spotlight into the future.
“I heard many times that Ralph wouldn’t do it that way,” he said. “I don’t think they were trying to be cruel, it was just not what they were used to.”
Wierima the mentor
I first met Brian on barstools at the local watering hole. We talked about sports, writing and drank plenty of beers.
Eventually our chats led to me freelancing the outer regions of the Tribune coverage area from DL to Ulen, Frazee, LP-A, Pelican, around and in-between.
Brian was essential in helping me hone the craft of telling sports stories. I was an entertainment writer in Florida, a corporate schmuck in Dallas. On my last day as a technical recruiter my boss asked me if I wanted to keep my job.
I told her, “Not really. It has nothing to do with me as a person. I think I’ll move home and become the sports guy at my local paper.”
Brian made that happen.
It took years of stringing for him until an opening in Perham was available.
I awoke one morning to Brian on the phone telling me to get my resume submitted if I wanted the job.
“What did you tell them about me?” I asked.
“That you’d be a good hire, but you’re kind of a loose cannon,” he said.
That was true and it allowed me to go to that interview as myself. I had great years, state titles and some incredible stories for half a decade with the Yellowjackets.
The first person I went to for any advice was Brian. He was kind of like my Ralph and I had the pleasure of being covered by Anderson as a kid. It made sense that one day I should be the DL guy, at least to me.
Then one day on those same barstools I came upon a haggard-looking Brian Wierima. More haggard than usual.
It had been a particularly heavy week of coverage here in Laker land and I knew the look.
“Ya know, one day I’m going to take your job, Brian.” I bought him a beer and tried to make him feel better.
“You can have it,” he said.
The Wierimas had begun the plan to move to Florida. Chrisy had gotten a nursing job and was heading down to get Florida ready for the boys while Brian and Brody took care of selling the house and getting ready to move. It took a few months.
That was ample time for me to pick his brain to add to what I had learned on the fly in Perham before Brian finished here at his final Pine to Palm in 2014.
He turned in the championship story, looked at me and said, “The rest is all yours.”
Completing the transition
“One thing I tried to do was put more emphasis on all the sports, swimming, gymnastics, the soccer programs were just starting up,” said Wierima. “My goal was to feature each sport and I thought I did that pretty well.”
That was one big change from the old days, there was so much more to cover.
“I had to find my niche, something that Ralph didn’t do,” said Wierima. “Going and talking with the swimmers, soccer players or gymnasts, I tried to make every game as a feature. That helped the transition too.”
Technology provided the most change in 18 years.
“It was huge,” Wierima said. “We did a lot of paste up the first couple years. Brian Basham had a darkroom. When he was able to go digital it improved and doing full layout on the computer saved a lot of time.”
Paste up is what it sounds like. Razor blades cutting paper copies of stories to fit the page, cut and paste before quick key commands on keyboards took over. Printing and cutting out multiple versions of headlines to find the right-sized one that fit the space.
“We used up a lot of paper and did that for several years,” Wierima said. “We didn’t really have the internet when I started.”
Wierima covered plenty of big games: Detroit Lakes’ fourth football state championship, the first state gymnastics championship, the first wrestling state appearances, girls basketball to state and the Lakers’ run to the boys, girls state golf sweep.
One of Wierima’s most memorable games was a state football quarterfinal victory in Hutchinson. It was the beginning of thoughts that it was time to move south.
“This is when I started not liking winters in Minnesota,” he said. “It was 10 degrees, snow on the field, it was so cold and I had to do all the stats. It was a tight game and I remember getting in the car and I told Basham, ‘I don’t know if I can type this out. My fingers are dead.’”
Wierima does not regret chasing his other passions in life besides sports writing.
“My time was up,” he said. “I did everything I wanted to do. It was time to change everything.”
The Sunshine State
Wierima kept writing when he got to Florida. Sometimes one has to do what they know, but not before a deserved break.
“When I left Detroit Lakes I didn’t have a job down here,” he said. “Having a Friday night off was surreal. It was unbelievable. I didn’t know what to do with myself on a Friday night. Not having a deadline after 18 years was definitely different.”
Eventually, he continued his career as the editor of the Island Reporter for Breeze Newspapers on Sanibel Island.
“I wanted to get into news,” he said. “Once I ended sports, I didn’t apply for any sports writing jobs. It was Florida 101 for me. I got to know the owner of Captiva Cruises. Once a week I’d jump on a boat and do a cruise. Being able to shoot nature photos was awesome.”
Besides his family, Wierima has three passions in life: sports, rock music and animal rescue.
Wierima started in animal welfare locally in Detroit Lakes at the Humane Society.
“Actually, on my 40th birthday, Brody and I spent it cleaning kennels at the Humane Society,” he said. “People that know me probably thought I would have been at Zorbaz.”
Wierima ended up covering stories about Gulf Coast Humane Society and got to know Jennifer Galloway, the executive director. He, Chrisy and Brody began volunteering there.
“As people know, the newspaper job is not something you’re going to thrive in financially,” Wierima laughed. “I took a huge pay cut from what I was getting in Detroit Lakes.”
The community relations coordinator position at Gulf Coast opened up.
“It was a job I could transfer my skills too,” he said.
Wierima is in charge of press releases, photography, social media, along with fundraising and coordinating the outreach program.
He loads up his “furry ambassadors” and visits preschools to colleges talking about animal welfare.
“That makes my job so much easier because they focus on the dogs,” he said.
Wierima does bi-monthly radio spots with dogs including a show on 93X the local hard rock station combining two of his loves. He also does a weekly pet of the week on television while organizing around 200 events per year.
“It’s a lot of media relations, but I’m on the other side now,” he said. “Being in the thick of animal welfare has been life-changing. Coming down to Florida, this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Wierima brings the family’s three dogs to work every day.
In 2019, Gulf Coast adoptions numbered 2,236 and they took in over 3,200 animals to the shelter, spay/neuter clinic and full-service vet clinic.
“Everybody has to wear five or six different hats at a non-profit,” he said. “It’s not just sitting there petting puppies all day.”
Chrisy works at Riverchase Dermatology and Brody is a senior at Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral when not touring clubs with his metal band Dead Ritual.
The Wierimas live with their three dogs Lemmy, ZaZa and Sota, all Gulf Coast rescues.