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Tomahawk Speedway track holds strong for full day of racing at the Inaugural Winter Hatchet Nationals Submitted: 02/26/2017

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TOMAHAWK - Dirt track racing fans know one of the best places in the Northwoods is Tomahawk Speedway.

But this weekend snowmobiles took center stage as the track held the first Winter Hatchet Nationals.

Record high temperatures in recent weeks created concern that the track may not hold up.

Crews worked around the clock to make the racing possible and it paid off.

"Can't believe, I just can't believe it how well the weekend came off, especially with the record temperatures we had. We had to do so much to save this ice, we hash-tagged this thing online as 'Miracle on Ice 2'," said Tomahawk Speedway Co-Owner Andrew Bartelt.


After days of poor weather conditions for the ice track, Friday's snowstorm was the perfect boost that crews needed to get the track ready.

"God blessed us, and Andy has had the perseverance, it was always 'this is going to happen, this is going to happen' and it happened," said Co-Owner Marilyn Fanetti.

Several hundred spectators attended throughout the weekend.

Gunnar Sterne from West Chicago, Illinois captured the checkered flag in the championship race Sunday afternoon.

Story By: Mark Spillane

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 LOCAL SPORTS

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NORTHWOODS - Second seeded Lakeland Union defeated the Mosinee Indians at home to advance to a regional final in the Division Two playoffs.

Meanwhile the Elcho Hornets moved on to a Division Five regional final with a win over Gresham.

Check out the highlights and some area scores!

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HAYWARD - The Birkebeiner unfortunately could not hold its traditional race Saturday morning. It was a tough decision, but because of the unseasonably warm temperatures, it left the race officials no choice but to cancel the event. 

"We had to cancel the event because we did not have enough snow to have a safe event," said trail manager, Chris Campbell.

That cancelation was a little bit of a letdown for first time skier Aniya Langjahr.

"I was a ski racer in college and took a break and had three kids and so this is my come back year. It was really bittersweet to have it canceled," said Langjahr.

That didn't mean the skiers disagree with the decision.

The famous Birkie course is a 50k race. It was cut down to a 5k un-timed course on Saturday.

"We skied about half the course and you have beautiful sections and there were some where we had to take our skis off and walk," said Langjahr.

The Birkie trail managers and directors made the decision less than 24 hours before the race was set to start.

"We were holding out hope for the snow storm to catch us, which it did not and the decision was made early Friday morning," said Campbell.

There were still thousands of skiers out enjoying the shorter course.

"It's great to be out here in the Birkie spirit and be skiing around with massive amounts of people, that's what it's all about," said skier Rachel Elvester.

Next year will be the 45th year and The Birkie plans on being back and better than ever.

"I do not think it will help or hurt because these people love this event and they will keep coming back," said Campbell.

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WISCONSIN - See how Northwoods wrestling is doing at the state meet.

Then check in with Medford boys basketball head coach Ryan Brown.

That's followed by Bucks and Badger hockey highlights.

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NORTHWOODS - The Medford Raiders finished the regular season 17-4 overall and 9-2 in the Great Northern Conference.

They won the first GNC title in school history and earned a two-seed in the Division Two playoff bracket.

Check out the full interview for all that and more!

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PHILLIPS - Most Wisconsinites recognize J.J. Watt for his incredible skills on the football field. But for the Phillips middle school wrestling team, they now recognize him as a giver.

"We were wrestling on a 17-year-old mat that hardened over the years and it wasn't really safe anymore," said head coach Jack Hoogland.

But thanks to Wisconsin alum, J.J. Watt and his foundation, they received a brand new wrestling mat this season.

"It's a lot more soft and it doesn't hurt as much to get taken down or thrown or anything," said 8th grade wrestler, EJ Bogdan.

The nearly $10,000 gift came as a surprise to most of the community.

"Parents and students and everybody's just kind of amazed because this isn't usually something we hear about here, of something like this foundation giving this kind of money to one of our athletic programs," said Hoogland.

The middle school students are mainly who use the new mat. That's the age group that Watt's foundation focuses on.

"High school gets a lot and middle school is left out so they cater towards middle school," said Hoogland.

Watt played at Wisconsin a little over 7 years ago now. That means most of the kids using the mat don't remember even watching him play at Camp Randall.

"Even though he's in Houston now and they don't remember when he played for the Badgers, everybody knows him because he's such a recognizable person, both for his athletic abilities and his giving back to communities," said Hoogland.

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RHINELANDER - Four Rhinelander wrestlers will represent the Northwoods down at the state meet in Madison Thursday afternoon. It is the biggest group of Rhinelander wrestlers going to state since the early 1990s.

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NORTHWOODS - Rhinelander defeated Antigo to advance in the Division Two playoffs.

Meanwhile Elcho continued it's impressive run with a win to advance in the Division Five playoffs.

Check out the highlights plus some area scores!

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EAGLE RIVER - With Northland Pines' win over Clintonville on Tuesday night, Lexi Smith's incredible high school basketball career will continue for at least one more game.

That means at least one more practice, where you can always find her moving at full speed, and pushing her teammates along the way.

"I think it's the most fun part about practice. I love playing defense against her, I love bumping up against her," said Northland Pines junior Cassie Gauthier.

Such determination has been a big part of her athletic success, but it's the huge amount of success that's truly impressive.

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RHINELANDER - The Rhinelander community lost a vital part of the Hodag family this week. 

54-year-old Mark Apfel passed away on Sunday, February 12th.

"He made everyone feel special," said former player, Zach Ready.

He was a long time football, basketball and baseball coach for hundreds of young men at Rhinelander High School.

"He was one of my favorite coaches," said Ready.

The impact of Apfel was felt even off the field.

"He taught me how to treat people. And how to appreciate everything that someone brings to the table. Not everyone can give you everything, but there's always something in someone," said Ready.

Ready is now a football coach for the Hodags. His time with Apfel helped shape him into the coach that he is today.

"He was one of the few coaches that would tell you they loved you and that he would do anything for you," said Ready.

One of Apfel's best friends and coaching partners, Mike Prom, also reflected on who Mark was as a coach.

"If they were in need financially or if they were in need of clothing, or if they needed encouragement, he was there," said Prom.

Prom has used this time to try and sum up Apfel's message to not only his players, but also the Rhinelander community.

"Be committed to people. Love people. Care for people. Get involved in their lives in whatever way you can," said Prom.

Apfel was always trying to make everyone around him better. Prom knows his friend would want his legacy to be heard.

"When you leave this earth, you're leaving a legacy. What kind of legacy are you leaving?" said Prom.

There will be a scholarship offered in Mark's name for Rhinelander senior student athletes. For more information, contact the high school guidance counselor.

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MADISON - Friday night, Lakeland Union and Rhinelander went down to Madison for the boys Division 2 state swim meet. 

Lakeland Union's Jack Garcia had the best finish of the night for the Northwoods schools. He finished third in the 500 freestyle. Not only did he podium, he also beat his personal record by seven seconds.

"I talked to the guy beforehand that was right next to me and he said 'oh, I want to go a 4:40, a 4:45' and I just thought 'okay, I'll go with you'," said Garcia.

Yes, Garcia was happy with his finish. But he's also only a junior, so he'll be back for more next year.

"It felt really good to swim that well for the end of the year, and I still have another year to improve it even better," said Garcia.

Rhinelander's Nolan Francis was also happy with his times. His best finish was sixth in the 100 yard butterfly with a time of 53.84 seconds.

"It was really a good race. I felt good going in and I was warming up behind the blocks and I just got out there and raced the guy next to me and the race went smooth," said Francis.

Monona Grove dominated the meet. But having such a big school in the same pool didn't intimate the Northwoods swimmers. They knew to simply focus on their own times.

"Not that we don't set our sights for them, it's just they're on a whole different level right now," said Francis.
It also helped that the two smaller schools were there to cheer each other on.

"They always mess around with us and we hang out with them. You get to cheer everyone on, so it's a heck of a lot more fun having them here," said Garcia.

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