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By Dan Hardenbrook

With the crowning of State Champions in boys and girls basketball last weekend in Lansing, the long and eventful winter sports season reached its end. The overall opinion is that it was all worth it and the season was a success!

Newberry Athletic Director Kenn Depew told us at the very beginning that his number one focus was to get as many games played as possible for his student athletes, especially the seniors. Athletic directors across the Eastern U.P. and outside the area agreed.

All of the extra work, all of the new rules and regulations, all of the new protocols and procedures were worth every minute to see kids get back in the game. “We do it for the kids,” the athletic directors said.

They stayed true to that all season long. Some were frustrated, others were angry. A couple said at times they wanted to quit. But when things got rough, they remembered why, and who they were doing it for. Our area athletic administrators deserve a lot of credit. Their work often goes unnoticed, unless something goes wrong. This season, their tireless efforts earned many an opportunity that they easily could have lost.

Then there are the coaches. The commitment and sacrifices they make are incredible, even under normal circumstances. Many are volunteers, giving up their free time to work with area kids. Many take time off of work to make practices and games, pay for equipment and other needs out of their own pockets, and give up evenings with their families to travel the road with their teams.

This year their whole world was turned upside down. Coaches could’ve packed up their bags and gone home, where their own families and children were struggling. But they stayed. And they led, and they taught.. They stood by our kids and fought for them. They deserve a great amount of gratitude for the dedication and determination they showed for our kids.

Then there are the players. I have never been more proud of a group of kids than this year’s athletes. Put on a mask to play, they were told. Get tested all winter long. Drive yourself to games. Sit by yourself on the bench. Stay socially distanced at practice. Do all of these things and then maybe you can play. But if you do, you’re going to have to pick just a couple family members to come watch you. Your friends won’t be able to come, either. And if one person gets sick, or comes in close contact with the wrong person, your season and in some cases your career could end even if it isn’t your fault.

There were no high fives or hand shakes. No pats on the back. No embraces with teammates. They got through that.

I have often said lately that we were ignoring the one voice that we should be listening to: the voice of our kids. They said they wanted to play. Then they went out and did exactly what they had to. It’s never been a harder time to be an athlete. Our kids overcame that adversity all season long. I’m so proud of each and every one of them.

There were wins, championships, records, and awards won. There were highlight reel plays and once-in-a-generation stories that we got to hear. But beyond the wins and losses, we gained so much more. Locally, we were safe, with no local outbreaks or cases connected to high school sports. No stoppages because of a COVID outbreak. No seasons cancelled before they were completed. We came together again. We did it.

That’s why this season was a success.