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Jeff VanLeur wins region vote for best coach in USA Today contest

EMERY — Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan’s Jeff VanLeur has moved on to the final round in the USA Today’s search for the best football coach in the country.

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The competition started with 408 of the nation’s best active football coaches and has narrowed down to at eight.

After topping his fellow South Dakota coaches in the first round, VanLeur went up against the best from Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. VanLeur received 163,444 votes in the regional round, beating out Jeff Ferguson, of Totino-Grace in Fridley, Minn., by 15,000 votes.

“I think it says a lot about our community,” said VanLeur, whose team has a bye this week and finished the regular season 7-1. “The players, parents and alumni in the program are our building block and it’s all about the connection.”

VanLeur has been on the Seahawk sidelines for 34 years, won five Class 9AA titles and serves as the athletic director for Bridgewater-Emery. This season, the Seahawks are the third-ranked team in Class 9AA and have the top seed in the region heading into the postseason.

Coaches from Louisiana, New York, Maryland, Mississippi, California, Kentucky and Arkansas are a part of the national poll with VanLeur. Voting for the national round started Monday and the Seahawks’ head man will go up against the winners of seven other regions.

The competition is open to voting from the public and there are no limits placed on how many times a person can vote. The winner of the national competition will receive $2,000 for his athletic department, while second through fifth place will receive $1,000, $500, $250 and $100. The winner will also receive a banner for his school.

Votes can be cast by going to Voting ends at 11 a.m. on Oct. 29.