ELK RIVER, Minn. - Our days immersed in high school sports are but a moment in time.
Student athletes and their parents fill gyms for a handful of years – then they’re gone.
Elk River High School boasts one notable exception.
“I’m going to be 90,” says the woman perched courtside at the girls’ basketball game. Fae Jacobs knows the view well. It’s been hers for decades.
“She's our number one fan for sure,” says Kelsie Cox, an Elk River senior.
The entire team knows the story of the 1944 Elk River grad who loved sports, but came along before girls were allowed to play.
It was the last time anyone left out Fae.
“There’s Ava,” says Fae as senior Ava Kramer heads toward the stands during player introductions. “Have a good game Ava,” Fae tells Ava as the two bump fists.
Each starter repeats the same pre-game ritual. “Have a good game Kelsie. Have good game Gabi,” says Fae as knuckles gently collide.
“You just always give her knuckles,” says senior Sidney Wentland, “It’s tradition.”
John Barth, Elk River’s former athletic director, watched for decades as the tradition developed.
“She came to every game,” he says. “She did it all my years.”
Girls’ basketball in the winter, girls’ softball in the spring – to this day Fae never misses a home game.
For years she was joined by her friend Gwen Moorhead and sister Loretta Moos, Fae always in the middle to prevent conversations between Gwen and Loretta that didn’t pertain to the game.
“I initially thought they were nuns from the Catholic church, laughs Sandy Hanson, an Elk River parent.
Not nuns, but Sandy soon learned the trio was heaven sent.
“If we needed a fan bus, if we needed new uniforms, she would come to me before I asked,” says John Barth, quoting Fae. “’What can we do, what can we do?’”
New uniforms, team dinners, or anything else that needed funding, Fae, Gwen and Loretta pulled out their checkbooks.
It didn’t end there. For years the trio funded an annual scholarship, and not just for one graduating senior. Every senior girl who completed the season in basketball or softball was provided with scholarship money from Fae, Gwen and Loretta.
“Including managers,” adds the former athletic director. “Every year.”
Gwen and Loretta have since passed away, but Fae - single her whole life with no children - is still courtside.
“Without having kids I think she just takes it on,” says Stacey Sheetz, softball coach for Elk River. “These are her kids.”
As other parents move on Fae keeps coming, because the young athletes are always her girls.
“She just deserves so much from this community and we just want her to know that she's special,” says Sandy Hanson, wiping away tears.
A few days before Fae turned 90, Elk River made sure she knows.
At halftime in a game against Rogers, Fae was presented with 90 flowers and a standing ovation.
“You're embarrassing me,” said Fae before the crowd serenaded her with the birthday song.
The game ended with another victory for Elk River. The girls are undefeated this season.
Handshakes had barely been completed when the girls coaxed Fae onto the court for a group hug.
“We did this for you,” they told her.
They always do.