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Dinner with Champions

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Making the Game Plan

UMD's Hannah Rutten playing basketball  
Hannah Rutten was a center on UMD's Women's Basketball team for four years.  

Hannah Rutten is known for her bounce. The UMD basketball captain averages 9.6 rebounds a game, successfully working both sides of the court. In a few months, the biology major will put her leaping ability to the test when she graduates from UMD and bounds into the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

Before leaving campus, Rutten will gather with her team one more time at the annual Dinner with Champions, a celebration of UMD’s junior and senior athletes. The event will be held on Wednesday, April 30 at the DECC and is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (218) 726-7005 by April 23. "It will be a great capstone to an even greater life experience that I've had as a Bulldog athlete," Rutten anticipates.

With a path to dental school already clear, Rutten's situation is somewhat unique. Most graduating seniors are still figuring out where they're headed. Karen Stromme, assistant athletic director at UMD, hopes that Dinner with Champions will help.

The fourth-annual event is designed to facilitate networking with the goal of keeping UMD’s standouts in Duluth after graduation. Dinner with Champions includes a social hour, complementary business cards for the senior athletes, and a seating arrangement that matches majors with potential employers. “A collegiate athlete’s skills are directly transferable to the workforce, and this event is an opportunity to showcase this niche to the Duluth community,” says Stromme.

Bill Watson has put this theory to the test and completely agrees. Watson, former Bulldog hockey star and Hobey Baker award winner, is the managing director of Northwestern Mutual. He's hired a half dozen UMD athletes as interns in recent years and says that his choice is deliberate, "Our most successful interns have been athletes. They compete, they're ready to learn, and they're multitaskers." Watson gives credit to the regime needed to successfully balance academics and sports.

At Dinner with Champions, the Chancellor's Cup will be given to the team with the best grade point average and UMD's Top Senior Scholar Athlete award winners will be recognized, demonstrating the importance that UMD places on academics for its athletes. Stromme notes that Bulldogs have a combined "B" grade point average, something that appeals to employers like Watson. "The impetus is on school. They're students first and athletes second," he says. A male and female Outstanding Senior Athlete Award will also be given at the event, along with the Shjon Podein Community Services Award.

John "Bah" Harrington will be the keynote speaker at Dinner with Champions. Harrington, 1979 alumnus and Bulldog hockey team member, is a 1980 Olympic gold medal winner who participated in the “Miracle on Ice.” He also played in the 1984 Olympics and professionally. Today he’s the hockey director of the Herb Brooks Training Center in Blaine, Minn, and a scout for the Colorado Avalanche.

The evening is somewhat emotional for Stromme. As bagpipes lead the athletes into the Lake Superior Ballroom, she reflects on how quickly four years pass by. Rutten is already a little nostalgic, "Bulldog Country has been my home for the last four years, and I know I will miss Duluth too much to be away for too long. In the future, I would love to come back and be a part of this close-knit, supportive, and family-like community."

Whether they settle down in the Twin Ports or make a play for other cities, Stromme says UMD's athletes remain connected, "They're not going to put on a Bulldog jersey anymore, but they'll always be Bulldogs."

Ticket information Those who can, Duluth
The UMD basketball team at the 2013 Dinner with Champions
Hannah Rutten and her teammates enjoyed the photo booth at the 2013 Dinner with Champions. From left, Kelsey Sorenson, Taylor Dillinger, Jessica Newman, Danielle Flood, Hannah Rutten, Abbie Whitney, Alyssa Kerkhoff, Katrina Newman, Shauni Payeur, and Taylor Meyer
Tables set during the 2013 Dinner with Champions
The 2014 Dinner with Champions is sponsored by Minnesota Power, a Champion Sponsor, maurices, a Bulldog Sponsor, and the Duluth News Tribune, an in-kind sponsor

Story by Lori C. Melton

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