Prep Newsmaker: Northwestern senior Dinkel stayed the course despite knee injuryNorthwestern senior Gabe Dinkel injured his right knee last fall playing football and kept aggravating it over the winter playing basketball.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Northwestern senior Gabe Dinkel injured his right knee last fall playing football and kept aggravating it over the winter playing basketball.
It got to the point where people told Dinkel to quit before he jeopardized his golf season, a sport where he has a college future.
“People told me that I should just give it up, because I had too much to lose for golf,” Dinkel said. “But I didn’t want to quit. I’m not a quitter, so I just kept on going.”
Dinkel stayed the course, helping Northwestern advance to sectionals in basketball and, along with teammate Justin Alexson, has the Tigers poised to win today’s Heart O’ North Conference golf meet in Bloomer, Wis. Northwestern has won the HON regular-season championship three of the past four years and is hoping to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
Dinkel and Alexson basically grew up together on the golf course, having worked at Botten’s Green Acres in Lake Nebagamon since they were 10.
“Those two are pretty much one and the same,” said Ryan Teal, who is in his first year as Northwestern’s boy golf coach after taking over from longtime coach Gary Swanson. “They are just very smart and pretty level-headed golfers. They know the game.”
Dinkel, who went back out for football as a junior after Alexson’s urging, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice after the Tigers’ first game last fall.
Dinkel had surgery Sept. 9 and proved to be an incredibly quick healer. He was already back practicing in early December and played in his first basketball game Dec. 27. Despite missing games and tweaking his knee three times during the winter, to the point where he was in extreme pain, he helped Northwestern beat rival Bloomer in the regional playoffs and advance to sectionals.
“I wanted to get back out there as fast as I could because I wanted to enjoy my senior year,” Dinkel said. “It’s high school. You only get to do it once, so you better enjoy every minute of it. That’s what I tell the younger guys on the golf team: You’re a freshman, but it goes by fast so enjoy every minute.
“For me, what we did in basketball was one of the best feelings ever.”
After finishing second to Alexson the past two years, Dinkel probably will win the HON individual title barring a collapse today. Alexson, meanwhile, has played better in the big, 18-hole invitationals.
“Last year was just a bad year for football injuries for our entire team, but Gabe just did a nice job battling through it,” Alexson said. “He was on crutches for a while, but he always seemed upbeat. He was determined to get back out there and keep playing.”
Dinkel admitted that his knee often starts to hurt 16 holes into a round but wouldn’t use it as an excuse for not playing as well this spring in the 18-hole meets, like today in Bloomer.
Swanson, the former golf coach, told him this experience could actually make him better as an athlete and person.
“When this first happened I was upset and down on myself, but Coach Swanson was the first person to show me how I could overcome the challenges that it gave me,” Dinkel said.
Dinkel was recently awarded Northwestern’s most valuable athlete award, for career achievements, while Alexson earned the most outstanding athlete award.
Dinkel will attend Waldorf College, an NAIA school in Forest City, Iowa, next year on an athletic and academic scholarship, and maybe, finally, that knee will get some rest.
“The second time I tweaked it, I gave (quitting) some serious thought,” Dinkel said. “I went to my parents, and they said, ‘When you look back, you don’t want to have any regrets.’ They told me I’m not a quitter, so that’s what I didn’t do. I made the decision I made, and it paid off. I’ll be able to look back some day and tell my kids that I did it the way I wanted to do it.”