My Merrie Sue Holtan
Photography by Thru Him Photography
He sings. He dances. He acts. He runs. He shoots. He kicks. He jumps.
And he studies – for hours. Tony Ukkelberg, 17, a junior from Battle Lake High School is 6’1” all-around talented Renaissance man, 4.0 GPA student and three-sport athlete.
Come spring season, his thoughts turn to track and field where he won the state triple jump last year with a personal best leap of 44 feet 11 inches. At that meet, he also placed fifth in the long jump and ran in the 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 relays. Tony recalls that June day at Hamline University, St. Paul, when he took the top spot in the triple jump.
“It was just a perfect beautiful day for running and jumping,” he says. “I train hard and mentally prepare and go over the technique in my head, but the day of the meet, I just go out and jump. I let it fly out there. The second day for the long jump was humid, and that affected all the jumpers and distances.”
Tony enjoys the triple jump because it lasts longer and relies on more factors such as the phases, patterns and the placement of feet and movements. He feels fortunate to have strong ankles and knees since he has been jumping since seventh grade. A stress fracture in his back, however, has prohibited him from doing the high jump.
“There are not a lot of athletes who have competed in the state track and field meet in four events and won a state championship,” says Battle Lake track coach, Bob Polzine. “Tony has a great work ethic, focusing on improving his times and distances. He competes in any event the coaches ask him to try. His leadership is through example and he makes coaching pleasurable.”
Winter on the court
Tony took the first week of track practice off this year, for good reason. He, and three of his first cousins were busy playing for the Battler basketball team, who placed fourth in the State Class 1A Basketball Tournament, the best ever finish for Battle Lake. Tony and company had come through the Battle Lake feeder system that included basic skills training in third grade, traveling tournaments in upper elementary school and attending regional camps. He began playing varsity as a point guard in ninth grade.
“Our team plays a style where we share the ball,” Tony says. “We might have four or five kids scoring double digits. We have a blast – like 12 brothers. This is a result of Coach Peterka, who preaches teamwork to us. He’s the only varsity basketball coach I have known.”
“Tony is a skilled player and tremendous leader,” says coach Dan Peterka, “As an intense competitor, he helps the team in a myriad of ways. He’s a great athlete, and even better person.”
Unfortunately, Tony sat out one game at state, after spraining an ankle. The final game, Tony got the all clear to play, tested it out, put on a special brace, and took to the floor.
“He does his best for the team, but doesn’t shoulder all of it,” his mother, Theresa, says. “If one guy goes down, the next guy steps it up.”
Tony received his earliest basketball and mental training from his three brothers, Jake, Alex, and Tyler on the “court of hard knocks” outside the Ukkelberg home on Baby Stuart Lake.
“He’s basically a product of these older brothers,” says Theresa. “They got along, but sometimes it was chaos around here. He took some beatings from his brothers and was given five minutes to feel bad. ‘You can cry or choose to play,’ they told him. ‘If you cry, you go in the house.’ They toughened him up for sure. They pushed him, he got better.”
Jake, 22, will graduate from NDSU this year as an electrical engineer. Alex, 21, a junior at Grandview College in Des Moines, Iowa, plays volleyball and is a kinesiology major. Tyler, 19, a freshman basketball player at the University of Minnesota-Morris, is majoring in the health sciences. The family also has a permanent foster child, 17-year-old, Malik, who plays football, basketball and is running track this season for Battle Lake.
“Tony has done well with the transition from empty nest, no brothers at home to having a brand new brother enter the scene,” says Theresa. “It’s been a new experience for us all and Tony has been very compassionate through this.”
When Tony was five, the Ukkelberg family moved back to their family roots after having lived in Princeton, and Wadena, Minn., where Ross worked in the construction equipment business. He is the owner of RossCo Equipment, Inc. The company buys and sells heavy equipment all across the U.S. and into Canada. A cluster of family surrounds the Ukkelbergs and, of course, they attend sporting events on a regular basis.
Ross grew up playing football, basketball and running track at Battle Lake and played football at the University of Minnesota from 1985 to 1989. Theresa, a New York Mills native, played high school volleyball, basketball and ran track. She is a registered nurse, spending the majority of her career as an emergency room nurse.
The lake and nature trumps
Tony balances high school activities with sports. He is a member of Business Professionals of America (BPA), National Honor Society, Interact, band (percussion), small group ensemble and choir, and has appeared on stage in musicals. He is also faithful to church activities and has participated in Central Minnesota TEC, a Catholic sponsored retreat. He believes his faith has lifted him during personal and health struggles.
Being at the lake and in nature, however, trumps everything for Tony. He’d rather be fishing and hunting. Last summer, he played for an elite team that traveled as far as Louisville, KY, and placed eighth out of 64 teams. This summer, Tony wants to enjoy the lake with his family and friends knowing that his time at the lake will inevitably change as he prepares to head off to college.
“My family gathers here because we all love the lake,” says Tony. “We swim, water ski, go tubing, and pontooning. Mostly I love catching pan fish, sunnies and walleyes.”
Future up in the air
With his senior year on the horizon, Tony has decided that track and jumping will be his college sport. He’s prepping academically for a health science degree by taking all of the college classes offered at Battle Lake High School. He will continue strength training and attend some summer track camps.
Tony offers this advice to younger athletes:
• Enjoy your sport. Don’t go out
because your friend did.
• Be focused, both with school and
• Keep the bigger picture in mind.
Prepare for further education and
don’t slack off.
“It has been an amazing ride, watching Tony grow. We have watched him stand up and try again in the face of some pretty big disappointments. He has grown in integrity, in his character and has his head held high,” Theresa says,
“We are very proud of the young man he is.”