Pelican native Ryan Bruggeman, in action for the Derby, England, Trailblazers.

Just like his high school mascot, the Viking, Pelican Rapids High School graduate Ryan Bruggeman journeys across the seas to new adventures. 

The big difference: He sets sail in the opposite direction, across the Atlantic from the New World to the Old World—exporting his Viking spirit and basketball skills to the east.

A standout basketball player and multi-sport athlete for the Pelican Vikings, Bruggeman is playing pro ball for his third European team. 

Back again for a season across the other side of the Atlantic, Bruggeman is with the Derby Trailblazers. They play in the NBL (National Basketball League England). 

 The Trailblazers plays other teams that are based in the United Kingdom. 

Ryan started his European pro career in Bosnia, playing for a team out of Mostar. He transferred mid-season to Spain where he played for San Sebastian. Last year Ryan stayed in the states, as teams limited the number of Americans that they were taking because of COVID-19 pandemic.

Bruggeman’s trans-Atlantic exploits have meant an opportunity for mom and dad to enjoy international travel. Doug and Sue Bruggeman visited him in Bosnia two years ago, and just returned after the holiday break from a trip to see Ryan in England. 

Not long after the overseas family reunion, Ryan and the Trailblazers won their first ever “L Lynch Trophy game,” which is one of the big event tournaments during the regular season.

As reported on the Trailblazers website: “Derby Trailblazers’ eight-year wait for silverware is over after they beat Team Newcastle University in the L Lynch Trophy final at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.”

The Trailblazers of Derby, England, won their first ever L Lynch Trophy Jan. 2, in Sheffield, England. Pelican native Ryan Bruggeman is third from right. The Derby basketball club was formed in the summer of 2000, running teams for boys at cadet (under 16) and junior (under 18) levels and senior women in the national basketball league. Since then the club has grown and now provides opportunities for girls, boys, women and men to play, coach and officiate in the exciting game of basketball. “Clubs” of this kind are formed to advance the sport in the United Kingdom, and “imported” players like Ryan and other U.S. players are brought in as professionals to both play professionally, and also train and inspire young players in the club.

Late in the game “Ryan Bruggeman converted the resulting free throw and followed it up with a three-pointer, before May-Thompson netted another triple to restore a 13-point advantage. Four more free-throws from Bruggeman led Derby to a memorable win in front of their raucous travelling supporters.”

The game highlight w as just one of many for Ryan, during his high school career as a Viking, and as a standout college player at Marshall in southwestern Minnesota. 

Father Doug, a longtime social studies teacher, coach and Dean of Students at Pelican Rapids High School, takes a keen interest in geography and history during the travels. He wrote an article on the Bosnia experience two years ago, and also submitted material after the recent trip to England.

“Two major differences from our time in England versus our trip to Bosnia was that it was nice to be able to communicate with everyone,” wrote Bruggeman, where English is the language—with some deciphering of the various British Isles accents. 

“But driving a manual 6 speed vehicle on the left side of the road was definitely a challenge. No fender benders—just honked at a few times,” he noted.

With a British Isles backdrop, Doug and Sue Bruggeman with son Ryan—who is with a England basketball club. The Bruggemans spent holiday break visiting Ryan.

Ryan plans on coming back to the states after the season ends in May and continue to train for another season abroad. He will also help Reid Ouse of Catalyst Training in the Twin Cities area.

Doug Bruggeman explained that Ryan’s basketball contract is on a year by year basis. The team and Derby has already started to reach out to him and his agent with hopes that he will re-sign for another year. The possibility of moving up to a higher league in Europe has been a goal of his, added Doug. 

Basketball, as with all sports in England, are operated at the club level. There are no high school teams. 

The Derby Trailblazers run an academy which fosters the growth of basketball in their area. This is a pretty typical set up for teams at this level. Occasionally a university will be sponsoring a team that competes at this level but they too would get professional players to go along with their school’s players. 

“Of course, soccer is the number one sport in England but basketball is making major gains,” said Doug. 

Recently an American interest committed to pumping millions of dollars into the growth of basketball in the country. 

“In talking with the owners of Ryan’s team they seemed really excited about the future. They even talked about moving their own club up to the next level of competition soon.”

Doug offered some geographic perspective on the UK:

The land area of England and Wales (not including Scotland and Ireland) is 28,000 square miles —smaller than Minnesota. 

Minnesota’s population is around 5.6 million. England and Wales have a combined population of close to 60 million people. 

“How big their small cities are is amazing. Derby and Nottingham are basically connected like Fargo/Moorhead,” said Doug.

Derby has around 260,000 people and Nottingham 330,000 people. The FM area combines for 238,000. 

“Definitely a densely populated area and you could tell by how small their homes and businesses were,” said Doug.