Meet the leapin' Ellenson family

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2013 - 11:11 AM

view larger photos

  

– On a rare Saturday morning in August that finds all four Ellenson kids at home, restlessness creeps in quickly.

Clustered around a small sun room that acts as an entryway to the caramel-colored Rice Lake house, the Ellensons are all lanky limbs and pent-up energy. Wally mindlessly bats a football between his knees. Ella rummages for a ball to toss. Ellwood and Henry’s 6-8 and 6-10 frames are holed in a corner of the room like a pair of eagles in a bird house, glancing outside, itching to stretch their wings. Past the open windows is a world the Ellensons have made their athletic kingdom: a picturesque northwestern Wisconsin town of about 8,300, lined by oak trees and crowned by Rice Lake, a glistening basin only two blocks away.

Each of the four kids appears to have a bright athletic future. Wally, 19, competes in both basketball and track and field at the University of Minnesota, where he is one of the country’s top collegiate high jumpers. Ellwood, 18, will play basketball at Bemidji State this year. Henry, 16, is ranked No. 42 in the nation by Rivals.com for 2015 high school basketball recruits heading into his junior year. And Ella, 14 and just entering high school, already is receiving attention from colleges, including the Gophers women’s basketball program. The siblings are a pickup game ready to happen. In any sport.

Sometimes the activities are football or baseball, with rules uniquely created for however many participants the kids can find. Other times it’s golf or biking or badminton in their yard. Many times, Wally will head to the lake solo, propping his fishing tackle and one of the family’s two canoes on his skateboard to gingerly guide it to the dock. At night, all six — the four siblings and their parents, John and Holly — will trek a couple blocks over to the public tennis courts and face off under the lights.

Over several weeks this summer, the four kids constructed a tool shed and painted a white picket fence. Occasionally, they find time to help a neighbor in his cornfield, picking ripe cobs for his vegetable stand.

Most of the time, they can be found at the Rice Lake High gym, shooting or scrimmaging for hours on end.

“They stay busy,” Holly says with a laugh.

Experiencing, even for a day, the family’s frenetic pace, Wally’s gym rat reputation comes as no surprise. Last year, even though the Gophers’ 6-6 wing averaged only 5.3 minutes in nine games as a freshman, it was not unusual to see him on the Williams Arena floor hours before a game, putting up extra shots. He’s maintained his already relentless basketball regimen — one he devotedly established years ago — while becoming a two-sport athlete.

“I knew it was going to be hard, but it’s definitely a surprise how busy it actually is,” Wally says. But asked whether it’s a pace he can sustain, he is quick with a smile and a response.

“I know I can,” he says.

A rich history

Sixteen years ago — only four days after he was born — Henry was already at the gym, swaddled in a pack on the bench as Holly coached the Rice Lake High girls’ basketball team in a road game. She’d been out of the hospital barely 48 hours.

The family found a second home at Rice Lake High. The Ellensons would play three-on-three basketball games — brown eyes vs. blue. As they got older, the brother battles got so intense — with so many elbows thrown and bruises administered — they’d ask their parents to officiate, at which point Holly and John would generally opt to exit.

With Holly teaching and coaching at the school, her extra set of keys — there is no other gym in town — was so well-worn that her kids got to know the school custodians by name.

“As a little kid, Wally would always say ‘Can we go to the gym? Can we go to the gym?’ ” John says. “Holly would work here for eight hours and then bring them back.”

Cascading frames of pictures and mementos down a crimson stairway wall at the family’s home tell an athletic history that goes much deeper than four lanky kids who don’t want to sit still.

“We call it our hall of fame,” says Holly, as Wally and Ella begin to push the boundaries of the living room, their game of squishy ball toss featuring deeper and deeper throws.

Both parents were high jumpers in high school and played basketball in college — Holly at Wis.-Eau Claire, along with her sister, Leah, and John first for Marquette and then Wisconsin.

  • related content

  • Gophers 2013-14 men's basketball schedule

    Tuesday October 8, 2013

  • Rayno: NCAA waiver decision on King could affect Gophers lineup

    Tuesday October 8, 2013

    If King's waiver gets denied, coach Richard Pitino could opt for a four-guard lineup.

  • The Ellenson clan gathered at Casa Mexicana, a favorite Rice Lake restaurant, to fuel up on fajitas and iced tea before more sports-related activities. Around the table are, left to right, John, Wally, Ellwood, Henry, Ella and Holly. Henry, ranked No. 42 nationally by Rivals.com in the Class of 2015 basketball players, will be the next to pick a college as he heads into his senior year.

  • Wally Ellenson, pictured right, is a two-sports star at the U of M in basketball and track and his photo was seen on the family mantle with a signed basketball from his father John's basketball playing days at the University of Wisconsin in the late 80s.

  • Wally Ellenson, left, playfully jostles his sister, Ella, at the Rice Lake High gym. Father John, below back, also was a basketball and high jumping standout.

  • Ellwood Ellenson, right, laughed as his brother Wally, who competes in basketball and track for the Gophers, tossed a ball around the living room with his sister, Ella.

  • Equipment for Wally’s sports — and chores — share space in a rack at the Ellenson home.

  • Both Wally Ellenson, front, and his father John were two-sports stars in high school. John in basketball and track at Wisconsin schools Menomonie High in the mid-80s and Wally at Rice Lake High in 2012.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 10 3rd Qtr 8:25
Pittsburgh 20
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/4/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 45 3rd Qtr 6:09
Portland 66
Toronto 60 3rd Qtr
Denver 54
Phoenix 51 2nd Qtr 1:37
LA Lakers 54
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 3rd Prd
Anaheim 1
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 19 1st Half 8:15
California 9
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 2nd Half 0:02
Memphis 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close