It’s official; the Classes of 2012 have left the building. Their lockers cleaned out, the books turned in; these young adults are now ready to face the next steps of their lives. I wish them well in their journeys and I know they will be a force to be reckoned with. As I’ve watched them grow from tentative freshmen to accomplished young adults, I marvel at the changes they have gone through, some forged through adversity and some through determination.
A few of these grads I’ve known through their families and have watched them grow up. The others I got to know as I watched them progress through the high school sporting world. Either way, I have appreciated getting to know these kids and will miss them next fall.
There’s a group of girls in Hamilton that I have really enjoyed getting to know. I’ve known the Hood twins, Nichole and Rebecka, since they were born. I vividly remember them as two year olds, hanging out in their parents’ business. They had a new puppy and then, as now, Rebecka was right there telling me all about the dog while Nichole was shyly watching. Fast-forward to high school and it’s been a kick to watch these two play ball. Both are fierce competitors. Rebecka’s shear athleticism is a joy to watch. Nichole suffered a knee injury a couple of years ago. Watching her determination to overcome this injury and play softball again was inspiring.
Mary Conwell is another I’ve watched grow up and enjoyed getting to know. The first thing you notice about Mary is her smile. She’s always cheerful and always smiling, even when you know she doesn’t want to be. She’s gracious but don’t let that demeanor fool you, she wants to win. Her three point shots in basketball, her serving in volleyball, and her overall court presence on the tennis court all point to the competitor she is.
There’s also a couple of boys in Hamilton that I will miss. Dace Moerkerke should have had a stellar year this year. I admit I had him pegged to be one of the top athletes in the valley. But a knee injury on the soccer pitch changed all that. He didn’t get to finish that season, nor play basketball although he was on the bench and cheering on his teammates all season. He did however, make a bit of a comeback this spring. He was able to compete in the high jump and finished with a tie for fifth place at state.
Brad Palin made a choice at the beginning of his freshman year. He moved from Corvallis to Hamilton so he could play high school golf. He became one of the four top golfers in Class A and helped the Broncs win back-to-back state championships. His play on the basketball court was amazing. Not the tallest, and not always the fastest, he honed his skills for hours and had one of the best three point shots around. Quiet and unassuming, he didn’t like to be interviewed but would grudgingly answer a few questions.
When I first watched Doug Raymer run, I had the sense I was watching a runaway horse- all go, no whoa. As a freshman, his competitive spirit was already there. It was up to Darby coach Steve Gideon to channel that into a runner who could and would be one of the top runners in the state. This year, at a track meet in Corvallis, I stood spellbound as I watched Doug run the 800. Each movement, from his feet to his arms and elbows, was perfectly planned and executed. It was a joy to watch and as I glanced around, I found I wasn’t the only one spellbound by his running. In 2011, he was the state champion in Class B for cross-country, and in the 800, 1600 and 3200. This year, he was the same, only in Class C. Competitors like that don’t come along very often. Thanks Doug.
Halie Rennaker of Darby is also a tough competitor. I think she gets it from her dad. After sustaining a concussion at the beginning of basketball season, she came back to help her team have one of their best years in a while. She’s tough on the court or in the saddle. She also competes in high school rodeo.
Rennaker’s cousin, Raegan Tracy is from Victor and is another that I’ve watched grow up. And, like Rennaker, Tracy sustained a concussion in competition. However this was in goat tying in high school rodeo last year. But that didn’t stop her. After recovery, she came back with a vengeance. This year she is the state president of the Montana High School Rodeo Association. She is in third place for the all around and in a five-way tie for first place in goat tying. In the fall, she will become a member of the MSU rodeo team. But the best thing about Tracy, she’s always willing to help another and always has a smile on her face.
Tanner Sacks is another Victor student who is always smiling. He plays football and he plays basketball. He’s the player that reminds me that this is a game, and life goes on. Sacks plays hard while on the field or court but he’s also the one joking in the locker room and easing tensions when needed.
Four years ago, a group of small freshman boys were thrust into the limelight on the basketball court in Stevensville. Tyler Gavlak, Josh Schultz, Caleb Vance and Austin Kelling all had to match up against the rest of the Class A teams. It wasn’t pretty. But the next year it got a bit better. Then, in the summer between their sophomore and junior years, tragedy struck. Gavlak was injured in a horrific accident on Flathead Lake. His athletic career could have been over. The recovery was tough but by the end of basketball season, he was back on the court. By then the dynamics had changed between the four boys. Vance had come into his own on the football field and led the Yellowjackets to a successful season. Schultz opted to focus on basketball and became one of the best players in the state. Kelling continued on in both basketball and football. And Gavlak, he came back to have a great year in both football and basketball. His determination to overcome an injury has been awe inspiring to watch. And yes, through it all, he’s been smiling too.
At six foot tall, she’s hard to miss, especially at the volleyball net. Britney Chilcott has been a force on the Yellowjacket volleyball team for the past few years. Her ability to not only block and make the kill but to make the kill in unexpected spots, has made her one of the toughest players around. But the really fun thing about watching Chilcott play was the fun she had playing. It was infectious and it helped everyone on her team play better.
Riley Philips loves baseball. The Florence senior has been a member of the Bitterroot Bucs Legion baseball team for three years. Whether pitching, playing shortstop or batting, it’s evident that he is enjoying every part of the game. He works hard at what he does and carried that work ethic over to the football field and the basketball court. This basketball season, he had the misfortune to break his nose. He had to sit out for a few weeks but he was right there, urging his teammates on.
Rosie O’Brien has worked at playing basketball since she was little. She and her teammates competed in AAU and YMCA ball. Once in high school, she soon became the go to player for three point shots. Once she zones in on the basket, you can be sure the score is going to go up. However this year, she had to learn a new way of playing. After years of playing a deliberate style of play, Coach Bryan Neuman changed the Lady Falcon’s playbook to a razzle-dazzle run and gun style of play. Where once O’Brien knew she would be getting the ball at a particular spot, this year she had to be ready for any open shot. She adapted with style. Next year, she’ll learn a new system again as she plays for the University of Montana Western team.
Annie Jessop of Corvallis has been the quiet leader of not only her cross-country team but also the basketball team. She was the one who was leading by example, putting hours into practicing and training. She never sought the spotlight, and in fact wasn’t eager to be interviewed. But she gave her best at everything. That’s a legacy in itself.
And then there are the Corvallis boys – Riley Bradshaw, Colby Henderson and Stuart Landis. These three fellows each have been a joy to watch, for many different reasons. I’ve known Landis’ mother since she was a little girl and I see the same kindness and caring in her son that I saw in her. Landis is a workhorse whether it’s on the football field, in the gym or on the track. He’s bull strong but gentle at the same time. That’s a good combination in life.
After a great basketball season, Colby Henderson was poised to make a big splash this spring until whooping cough reared its ugly head. Instead of practicing with his Blue Devil team and finishing out his senior year in the halls of Corvallis, he was one of the students who had to sit out for a couple of weeks. He continued to practice and finished second at state in the 800 and the 1,600.
And then there’s Red. My memories of Riley Bradshaw go back to when he was four years old and dribbling the basketball. Then he was eight and handing water to the team, and dribbling the basketball. This gym rat worked and worked at his chosen sport until he was one of the best players this valley has seen in a long time. He’s always had a terrific shot but this season, his assists and defensive play were just as impressive. Maybe it was the fact he’d already signed with Utah State that allowed him to relax and enjoy the season. His play will be missed, and I’ll miss his hugs as well.
Congratulations Class of 2012. May your stars shine brightly.