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Drafting the perfect team

Minnehaha students and faculty alike are participating in one of the most popular activities in America, impacting the connections they make now and for years to come

At this time of year in the Minnehaha hallways, it’s not the nervous discussion of upcoming tests that occupies the minds of students, nor is it the debating of important world issues that takes hold in conversations throughout the school.

Oh, no.

This time of year, there’s only one thing worthy of being talked about every day for months upon months: fantasy football.

“It’s a powerful thing,” said Jonathan Barnes, head chef at Minnehaha. “Everyone gets in on it.”

The trash-talk conjuring, fist- shake creating, son-why-are-you- yelling-at-our-TV question raising game that captures the hearts of millions of Americans each year has once again taken deep root in the Minnehaha community.

Fantasy football is a statistical game in which players compete against one another by scoring points based on the performance of real NFL players. Before the NFL season begins, fantasy participants select their teams via draft and are subsequently able to trade and release their team members.

In America alone, fantasy football is a multi-billion dollar industry, as participants spend varying amounts on league entry fees.

The appeal of fantasy football lies largely in the compressed nature of the NFL season—there are only 16 games, as opposed to the MLB’s 162 and the NBA and NHL’s 82. With such importance placed on each game, male—and a select few female—fans find enjoyment in the competition and bragging rights that come with fantasy football.

At Minnehaha, there are countless fantasy football leagues. One of the most well known is the “Senior vs. Faculty” league, consisting of 10 seniors and eight faculty. After the league’s draft, morale was high as members prepared for their first matchups of the season. Barnes was exceedingly confident in his team’s ability as he faced-off against senior Willy Anema.

“I was taking trash to him all week long; every time he came through the lunch line,” said Barnes. “Going into the weekend, still talking trash. I thought I had it on lock.”

Come Sunday, Barnes’ team Did You Like Lunch performed well, just as he’d hoped.

“We started off with a bang,” he said. “I was really excited.”

At the end of the day, Did You Like Lunch was leading Anema’s team, Will Will Win? Will Will Win., by ten points, 90-80. The only player left to play was Anema’s Jason Witten, the Dallas Cowboys’ tight end.

“My tight end had scored nothing; absolute goose egg,” said Barnes.“SoIdidn’texpect[Witten] to go off for that many points.”

And he didn’t, at first. Through most of the game, Witten was silent. The Cowboys were losing late in the fourth quarter to the New York Giants, and it looked like Witten wouldn’t post more than a few points.

However, with just over five minutes to go in the fourth, Tony Romo found Witten for a one-yard touchdown to bring the Cowboys within three points ofthe Giants and Anema within two points ofBarnes.

Then, with only 15 seconds left in the game and the Cowboys down six, Romo dropped-back from Giant’s ten yard line and looked to the end zone.

“One of the last plays of the game,” said Anema, “I was down by a point, maybe two. Tony Romo wound up and threw a touchdown to Jason Witten. Game over. I win.”

The Cowboys, backed by 80,000 screaming fans, won the game, 27-26. Anema, with his head on a pillow, covers pulled up to his chin and eyes focused on an iPad screen, won the matchup, 98-90.

Although the game was over, the back-and-forthbetweentheAnema and Barnes was just beginning.

“That day for breakfast I stayed away from the window so Will couldn’t see me,” said Barnes. “But for lunch, I had to cashier that day and Will made it very apparent that he won.”

“He raised both ofhis hands and said ‘Not today, Will. Not today,’” said Anema. “He gave me the silent treatment, courteous as always.”

Fantasy football drives interactions that normally wouldn’t take place. In the instance of Anema and Barnes, it created a joking, good-natured relationship between a high school student and his lunch provider.

“It’s a blast,” said Barnes. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”

In other instances, fantasy football acts as a bridge between people and groups of people who wouldn’t otherwise interact.

For example, at the beginning of the school year, the freshman class was made up of students who were searching to establish themselves both academically and socially. Because spontaneous interaction with unfamiliar faces wasn’t easy, fantasy football eased them into the high school atmosphere, allowing them to establish a common interest in order to make new friends.

One fantasy football league consisting of ten freshmen was formed when Brock Brumley asked students in the lunchroom, freshman hallways, gym and library if they liked fantasy football. The responses he got were positive.

Now, almost 10 weeks into the NFL season, the league’s members are a friend group and even played as a dodgeball team for the intramural tournament.

“I feel like I am more comfortable talking to [the league members] because I have something to talk to them about,” said freshman Nick Wong. “[Fantasy football] is a good way to meet more people. It’s a good conversation starter. If you don’t know someone, it’s nice to get to know them through something you both enjoy.”

In some cases, the fantasy- football relationships formed as freshmen last long beyond high school.

Reid Westrem, journalism and world history teacher, and his friends began a fantasy football league in 1982 when they were high school sophomores.

“I’m still in a league with a lot of those guys,” he said.

“I still to this day remember one liners from our draft. I remember the house; I remember the basement; I remember my friend’s dad being upstairs the whole time,” he continued. “I didn’t think it was a memorable event at the time, but we stuck together.”

The group of friends switched from fantasy football to fantasy baseball during the spring of their senior year, but made the switch back to football not long into adulthood.

“It’s really fun,” said Westrem. “And really, guys love the trash talk; guys love getting together and just talking about stupid stuff and having fun that way.”

To Westrem, the appeal of fantasy football lies in its inclusiveness.

“I think it’s that you get to be a part of the sport you enjoy watching,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re involved somehow and that’s the fantasy part. It’s just doing something together, it’s a shared experience and yet it also is competitive.”

Although it may seem foolish to constantly discuss fantasy ownership of real-life athletes, fantasy football gives a sense of belonging to its participants. Sharing meaningful moments— moments of game winning touchdowns; moments of making friends; moments of nostalgia— with others is why fantasy football so profoundly impacts both the Minnehaha community and America as a whole.

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About Kenny Kiratli

Kenny Kiratli ('17) attends Northwestern University.

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