Documentary series gaining attention for Pelican soccer—and mental health awareness

To describe “We are from Pelican” as a documentary about the growth of soccer in Pelican Rapids would be a vast understatement. 

Community, ethnic diversity, pandemic impacts, and mental health topics are but a few of the broader ground covered in the remarkable “We Are From Pelican” documentary. 

The seven-episode series was also an unusual opportunity for students to gain experience in filming and producing a professional-quality documentary. 

The series includes professional-level video, and thoughtful interview segments. Viewership rises every week, as more and more see the series on YouTube. 

Last week, WDAY television reporter Kevin Wallevand came to town, interviewing students and Coach Peter. 

Much of the inspiration behind the documentary series comes from Coach Peter. But he always directs the spotlight to students, the team and the community—rather than on himself. 

With one exception: His personal challenges with mental illness. 

He made a conscious decision that the documentary series also serve as a vehicle for mental health awareness. 

“This whole project is about the town, the school and the team—all three are amazing…I didn’t want it to be about me,” said Peter. “I really tried to stay out of the story as much as possible—until I couldn’t…”

Three emotional “crashes” are clearly identified by Peter, over the span of about a year.  The COVID pandemic was no doubt a factor, but the evidence of mental illness long existed for Peter.

The pandemic was “jarring to our routines,” said Peter, affecting many people. His “crashes” included midway through the most successful soccer season the Pelican team has ever had. 

His struggles show up most prominently in episode four of the series. Interview segments include his sister  Dr. Beth Peter, a physician in Michigan; his friend Dr. Matt Haugen, Perham Health, also a Pelican native; Sarah Winter, physicians assistant at Essentia Health; and Pelican school nurse Cheri Lynnes. 

Without hesitation or exaggeration, Peter insists that Lynnes “saved my life.” Within a half of hour of discussion, Lynnes essentially “ordered” him to get to the doctor.

Peter had a history of periods of high energy, creativity and productivity—followed by weeks or months of feeling terrible. 

The combination of depression, anxiety, high-highs and low-lows led to a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. And, there are others in Peter’s family tree with bipolar disorder. 

“Mental health crisis” is how Dr. Haugen described the issue. “There is a stigma surrounding mental illness. It’s improving to some degree, but it is still there. People are reluctant to talk about mental health struggles,” said Dr. Haugen. “It impacts everything that goes on your life, whether it’s productivity at work, how well you’re learning in school, how you’re performing in sports, or ability to maintain deep meaningful relationships with your family.”

Men struggle in particular in a culture that has historically expected men to step up and deal with emotional issues…“quit feeling story for yourself…”

Peter has been very open about his challenges.

“It has been to the point that it is disarming to some people,” said Peter. “Some people just don’t want to talk about it.”

On the other hand, “as I talk, I find out how many other families are impacted by mental illness.”

Through the documentary, Peter is sending the message that “you are not alone in this fight.”

In addition to the medical and mental health professionals, Peter has relied on his family: Wife Anna, and five children ages 3 to 12; Ruth, Silas, Esther, Phoebe and Naomi. 

He urged the public to call 211, from anywhere in the U.S. for confidential mental health help. 

He also listed the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours, 800-273-8255.

Pelican Rapids High School soccer coach John Peter, left foreground being interviewed recently by Kevin Wallevand of WDAY television

Introduction to documentary series 

In Northern Minnesota’s Lakes Country sits Pelican Rapids, a factory town of 2,500 people. But the town’s demographics are unique to every community around them and so is the school, which houses the 

Pelican Rapids Vikings. 

The school is the smallest traditional public school in Minnesota to have it’s very 

own soccer program. 

In 2020, as a global pandemic raged on, a student camera crew captured the entirety of the season. As the team tried to rediscover reality in the new world, the most unexpected 

and unforgettable season unfolded. 

This is We Are From Pelican.