Like many of his contemporaries growing up in Henderson, Todd Pankratz embraced the small-town sports scene.
From grade 5, the now 48-year-old would round up essentially the same eight friends each day to do battle on the local makeshift football field and basketball court.
An average player “surrounded by great athletes,” he went on to compete at the varsity level at Henderson High School, earning letters in track, football and basketball with the Huskies. His senior year in 1984, Henderson won the Class C-2 state basketball tournament after losing in the semifinals the year before. The Huskies also were state champions in football in 1983.
Yet as much as he enjoyed most of his athletic pursuits, it was that state championship football game that completely derailed his desire to play college sports.
The incident occurred on the opening kickoff of the 1983 state title football game between Henderson and St. Cecilia played at A.H. Jones Stadium at Hastings College and led the future obstetrician and gynecologist to rethink his college game plan.
On that fateful day, Pankratz was among those chasing the St. Cecilia return man when teammate Jerry Ediger put his head down while attempting the tackle. That contact resulted in a broken neck, an injury that would leave him a quadriplegic.
The horrific collision marred whatever aspirations Pankratz had of playing college football. Instead, it caused him to rededicate himself in his pursuit of a career in medicine.
“That was a life-changing moment,” he said.