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Memory of 'The Dutch Destroyer' landing in Fargo this weekend

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) embraces the Kusters family after defeating the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Oct. 23, 2017. James Lang / USA TODAY Sports

FARGO — It was at the point in the story when ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi begins to outline a question to Carson Wentz by saying three words: "He was buried ..."

The thought was too much for the former North Dakota State star, who displayed some raw emotion rarely seen in a professional player in any sport. Wentz teared up, dropped his head with the bill of his "AO1" cap shielding his eyes from the camera and then proceeded to talk about a 10-year-old boy who was put to rest wearing his No. 11 Philadelphia Eagles jersey.

It was one of the many heart-wrenching moments last month in the 10-minute, 44-second profile of Lukas Kusters and his relationship with Wentz. The ESPN title to the story was "The Dutch Destroyer," in reference to Lukas' nickname on the little league football fields in Wilmington, Del., a story that had impact around the country.

Especially in North Dakota.

"And you know how everybody feels about Carson in this state," said Jack Maughan, NDSU's senior associate athletic director for development.

The Kusters family will get an up-close view this weekend when the Bison host the University of South Dakota at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. They're getting the first-class treatment. Through a collaborative effort of some local businesses, the family is flying in a private jet to Fargo on Friday, Nov. 10, and will be in attendance at the game on Saturday.

The trip first started to get some legs when Craig Whitney, the president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, was watching the story with his wife, Lori, prior to the Monday night game vs. Washington on Oct. 23.

"I turned to my wife and said, 'What a great story it would be if we could arrange the family to come to a Bison home game,'" Whitney said. "Suit them up in Bison gear and have them have the game day experience. What you see is what you get with Carson and that's the way Carson is and North Dakota is."

The next morning Whitney got on the horn, texting NDSU President Dean Bresciani and talking with Jon Cole, the general manager of Gateway Chevrolet and a collaborative venture to bring the family to Fargo was off and running.

It wasn't long before the NDSU athletic department got in touch with Rebecca Burmeff, Lukas' mother. She's been busy selling "Dutch Destroyer" bracelets that, according to an ESPN story this week, have raised almost $200,000 for families and organizations fighting childhood cancers. That won't go unnoticed in Fargo.

Gate City Bank purchased as many as were available, about 9,000, Whitney said, and will give them away at their corporate corner in the Fargodome on Saturday.

"The original goal was for everybody at the game to get one but I think we're exhausting their inventory," Whitney said.

The family will be introduced to the crowd at some point during the first quarter.

"I think it's cool they wanted to come here," Whitney said.

The Eagles are on a bye, but there's no evidence Wentz will be in the area. When your team is in an NFL title chase, it's probably best to take a week away from the hype and any kind of crowds.

So, in a way, Wentz will be represented in Fargo this weekend by the memory of Lukas Kusters.

"You could only wish we had a bunch more of (Carson Wentz's) in professional sports," Whitney said.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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