In mid-March the seniors at Braham Area High School were given a chance to parade through the school building.
The novel coronavirus was about to shut down the school, and Braham Principal Shawn Kuhnke wanted his senior class to experience school in session one last time in case it did not reopen.
“At the time we were thinking we would be shut down for two weeks,” senior Ben Carlson said. “It was fun, but we thought we would be back and things would be back to normal. But instead it ended up being the last time – and I’m really glad he did that.”
That is just one of the sad casualties of this pandemic, as seniors around the area are denied opportunities such as their spring sports seasons, prom and graduation.
But no virus can take away the memories that sports have made for area seniors.
“As I was getting ready for graduation, I went through a lot of pictures for softball and volleyball,” Braham senior Amaya Leniz said. “The memories have come flooding back. I put my cleats away for the last time, and I thought about all the times we were on the field together.”
Before the memories start to fade, we asked a few seniors from area schools to share them. The County News Review spoke to:
— Myranda Brogger of Cambridge-Isanti. Brogger, who played basketball and golf for the Bluejackets, plans to attend the University of Minnesota-Morris.
— Ben Carlson of Braham. Carlson, who participated in football and baseball for the Bombers, plans to attend Minnesota State.
— Amaya Leniz of Braham. Leniz, who played volleyball and softball for the Bombers, plans to attend Moorhead State.
— Rebecca Perales of North Branch. Perales, who competed in dance, tennis and track for the Vikings, plans to attend Minnesota State.
— Sarah Schmidt of Rush City. Schmidt, who participated in cross-country, basketball and golf for the Tigers, plans to attend Minnesota-Crookston.
— Paul Swanson of Cambridge-Isanti. Swanson, who participated in football and basketball for the Bluejackets, plans to attend Central Lakes College.
PERALES: “When the construction was going on at school, we couldn’t use our tennis courts, so the varsity drove to Rush City every day for practice. That ended up being a lot of fun because I would use my mom’s Traverse to drive 7 or 8 girls there – I became ‘team mom.’ We had amazing times in our carpool, cranking up the tunes and telling amazing stories. It was never quiet. We played Disney music; we liked ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana, ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen and ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ from Mulan. Everyone knew every single word, and we would sing at the top of our lungs.”
SCHMIDT: “In cross-country my junior year we went to Duluth for a race, and afterwards we stayed at Edgewater Hotel and Waterpark. My friends and I decided to pull an all-nighter, and that’s not easy for me because caffeine makes me sick. Around 3:30 in the morning I thought the sky was changing colors. Then around 4 in the morning I was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to keep myself awake, and – according to my friends – I stopped talking in the middle of a sentence and fell asleep with my eyes open. As you can guess, Sunday was miserable.”
CARLSON: “Starting with my sophomore year, every time we won a game, Coach Kuhnke would do the latest and greatest dance on the field after our post-game talk. He didn’t always know exactly what he was doing, but it always was funny. We would get in a big huddle around him so no one could see. He got pretty good at the ‘dab’ after doing it for a few years.”
BROGGER: “At golf meets, the coaches usually drive by on their carts to check in and see how we are doing. There was one meet where I didn’t see my coaches for a while, and I wondered where they went. Suddenly Coach [Steve] Hanson and Coach [Jim] Poppen drove up to me – and they had McChicken sandwiches. They went to McDonald’s during the meet and got everybody McChicken sandwiches. The girls I was golfing with didn’t know what to say, they were so surprised. I had to tell them, ‘Yeah, this is pretty random.’”
LENIZ: “Last season in softball we stayed at a hotel for a tournament. There were only three upperclassmen on the team – two seniors, and me as the only junior – and there was a room filled with sophomores. So we upperclassmen decided to prank call them. Someone they didn’t know had accidentally knocked on their door, and they were really scared. So we knocked on the door. Their reaction was priceless.”
PERALES: “This year we had our first ‘Midnight Madness’ practice in tennis. You can’t start practicing as a team until a certain date, so we decided to go out at 12 in the morning on that first day. We went to the football field – there aren’t any lights on the tennis courts – and just did a couple of drills together. We had glow sticks and had fun. Then we all went to a friend’s house and went swimming, then we camped there. We had so much fun, just laughing and telling stories, that we didn’t go to bed until 4 in the morning. And we had practice at 8 that morning. We were pretty droopy at practice that morning.”
BROGGER: “My junior year we played in the section final in basketball, and nobody expected us to make it that far. When we reached the final, it already felt like a victory. That game was close for a while, but we ended up losing. In the locker room afterwards it was very emotional. Coach [Jody] Ledahl told us how proud of us he was, and then I’ll never forget that he said, ‘We’ll come back next year.’ And that game pushed us to get to state this year. We all believed it. And that’s why I think we made it to state this year.”
PERALES: “I remember the last match I played, which was in the section tournament. When the match ended, all of a sudden I started crying. I realized that was it; that was it for my senior year. My coaches came over and gave me the biggest hug. You don’t get it until you’re a senior – you think, ‘I lost, why is this a big deal?’ But when you’re a senior, it becomes real.”
SCHMIDT: “People who know me know I’ve been injured a lot – I broke my toe in seventh grade, and I also rolled both of my ankles in basketball. In eighth grade I had shin splints, and in ninth grade I had a concussion. I rolled my left ankle badly enough that I needed a splint when I was a sophomore, and as a junior I had shin splints again. In my senior year I had issues with my Achilles, and I herniated two of the discs in my back. The toughest thing I had to do was that I couldn’t run at the end of my senior year. Late in the year I was going to go on a short jog just to see how it felt, and about a quarter mile in it was already pulling. Coach [Mike] Vaughan told me I should just walk back. I cried all the way back to the building; I already had missed so much of the season. With all of my previous injuries there always was next year, but this time there was no next year.”
BROGGER: “After our final basketball game [in the state tournament] at Concordia, being in the locker room was the most emotion I’ve ever felt after a game. As a team we silently took everything in – all the time we had spent together since third grade. As soon as the coaches walked in, it was silent for a minute or so. It was such an odd feeling, because there always is a ‘next game’ or a ‘next season.’ And there wasn’t this time. Coach Ledahl started to talk, and he started to choke up. But he told us how the last four years together was such a blast – and it was. That moment gave us a little closure, and it was great to have that sense of accomplishment.”
SWANSON: “This year we played our section football game at St. Francis, and I was playing defense. With about five minutes left the offense was on the field, trying to make something happen, and suddenly I just broke down. When we went on the field for defense the final time, Mason [Delgadillo] and I looked at each other and realized it would be the last time we would be on the field in high school. When the final horn sounded, I just broke down. I couldn’t look at anybody. I was just sobbing with my helmet on.”
SWANSON: “In football we made it to the section championship my junior year. I was standing on the sidelines with my friend Mason Delgadillo, and when the game ended we looked at each other – and suddenly realized we were going to state. Even though we didn’t get to play, it was great to just be around all those guys and get to watch from the sidelines. That team went through a lot of adversity to get where it got to and really deserved it.”
PERALES: “My junior year I played second singles at the section tournament, and my first-round opponent was a girl who was ranked in the state. The year before, one of my teammates had played against her and not won a single point in the entire match. So my goal was to win one point off her. At the start of the match I was too nervous, and she is an amazing player. But finally I won a point – and my entire team went wild. I ended up winning five points in the entire match, and every time I won a point they were cheering wildly for me. I’ll never forget that match.”
SCHMIDT: “I was on the C Team early in my basketball career, and late in one game we were behind by one point, and I was fouled with 1.7 seconds left. I managed to make both free throws, and we won. I was shocked because I’m not very consistent at making free throws. My teammates and friends rushed onto the court and hugged me.”
BROGGER: “Our basketball team has played together since third grade, so it always has been our dream to go to state our senior year. I remember the section championship game was really close late. We were on the bench, and we all looked at each other and said, ‘We can do this. We can do this right now.’ And we did it. When the buzzer went off, it was such an amazing feeling to realize all of our hard work paid off. And to share that with your best friends is just crazy. I will remember it for the rest of my life.”
SWANSON: “I will never forget the basketball game against Wayzata this year. We only had one loss at the time, but they had beaten us by 30 points the year before. We led at halftime, and the locker room was as serious as I’ve ever seen it. In the second half they made a run at us, but we beat them. Our student section rushed the court, and the feeling afterwards was amazing. … And I’ll also remember the game against Eden Prairie. We looked at the student section, and it was the largest student section I’ve ever seen. And the parent section was filled, too. It was so loud, it was hard to talk on the court. It still gives me chills thinking about that game, especially as a home game against the best team in the state.”
LENIZ: “Sports are about all of the friendships that you make. We started playing sports in third grade, and Braham is pretty small, so you know everybody. But with activities like sports, you get to know people really well. I’m really thankful to have been in sports, because it has allowed me to get really close to the people who are my friends.”
PERALES: “Every year our tennis section was played in Duluth, so we would go up there and eat at Grandma’s Grill, then walk out to the lighthouse. We take photos and run around with the seagulls next to the water. We take a million pictures because section tournament marks the end of the season, and we say our goodbyes. Everyone’s crying, because we know our time together is over. So we try to embrace the moment and cherish it.”
CARLSON: “I remember sitting in the locker room during my freshman football season, and Coach Kuhnke said, ‘It’s amazing how fast the time will fly by.’ I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, whatever – I’m a freshman, and I have plenty of time left.’ I remember standing on the sideline during the state playoffs, watching the varsity win the section championship as a freshman and sophomore, and I thought that was the craziest thing. Making it to the section championship game this season as a senior captain is probably my favorite memory of high school. I’d give anything just to have another football practice. Games are great, but just going out after school every day and hanging out with your friends? There’s nothing like it.”