Small towns share a special bond with high school athletics.
The whole community is involved in building and maintaining the athletic programs of the local school every year. The support is unmatched, and the athletes do all they can to return the favor and make the community proud.
Being in a smaller community also gives every high school student a chance to play the sport they love.
“I really enjoy coaching and teaching at a small school,” Colo-NESCO girls’ track coach Josh Nessa said. “It really feels like we are a family - like they are my daughters. All of these girls are involved in so many things. That is great and doesn’t always happen at larger schools.
“That is also a huge challenge because as coaches, teachers and sponsors, we have to share really well. I think that this makes our students well rounded.”
So when something like the COVID-19 pandemic arises and shuts everything down it is felt by everyone. For the track athletes at Colo-NESCO losing their 2020 season was a huge blow.
“I was disappointed,” Colo-NESCO senior Emily Brinkman said. “I felt I had been really improving my race during my sophomore season, and I could not compete my junior season due to hip surgery. So I had been hoping to have a good comeback season this year as a senior.”
Brinkman is an avid track fan.
“I like the controlled chaos of the track meets,” Brinkman said. “There are so many events to watch or compete in that everyone can find their event. And there are always runners recovering or warming up or competing and I enjoy being a part of that environment.”
She was likely to run in the 1,500- and 3,000-meter races and be part of the Royals’ 4x800 relay team.
Brinkman is not the only Royal senior to miss last season due to injury only to have 2020 taken away by COVD-19.
“I was really looking forward to competing this year because I couldn’t last track season because I had hip surgery,” Colo-NESCO thrower Emma Stalzer said. “I still wish I could have competed one more year.”
Megan Carlson is another senior thrower who was looking forward to the season. She’s coping with the cancellation by reflecting on all the memories that track has provided her over the years … especially the humorous ones coming at the expense of her teammates.
“Last year, when Maggie Barten was throwing discus, she was spinning to go throw it and completely wiped out,” Carlson said. “She somehow managed to stay in the circle, and her throw counted.”
Three-time state medal winner Lauryn Hill carried the Royal girls’ banner at state in the Class 1A girls’ high jump. Addison Cronk was the other senior on the girls’ roster.
Even though Hill garners most of the attention, Nessa pointed out everyone’s contributions were needed to have a successful track program. He said it’s tough to see his senior athletes denied their final chance at competing.
“I will truly miss all of my seniors and how much they helped their younger teammates,” Nessa said. “They really are a testament to our school and community, and they demonstrate the Royal Way.”
On the boys’ side, the shuttle hurdle relay has been a staple. The Royal boys have qualified for state in the event multiple times over the years, placing sixth at state in Class 1A last season.
“Being able to go to state in an individual or team event is very cool to me,” Colo-NESCO senior hurdler Jack McKinney said. “We didn’t get chances to go to state in football, basketball or baseball.”
McKinney also competed in the high jump. He admits it was tough trying to keep up with Hill.
“I had a bad meet one day, and I ended up jumping 5 feet, 4 inches,” McKinney said. “Turns out that was the meet Lauryn broke our school record with a jump of 5-6. I got a lot of jokes that week at school and thankfully, I didn’t jump that bad again.”
Jackson Shaw, Brighton Clatt and Luke Hill were three more senior competitors looking to make some noise in 2020.
Shaw was mainly a thrower. He loved representing the royal blue and silver in the pits.
“The best part about competing for a small school is the community feeling,” Shaw said. “You will be working with guys of all ages and from all types of backgrounds. This is how you get close to other students, and this is how you further friendships with those you are already close to.”
Brighton Clatt was going to be a big contributor in distance events.
“My favorite event is the 4x800,” Clatt said. “You are trying to win as a team, rather than by yourself and we all pushed each other.”
He wishes he could have received one last chance at making state.
“I have been bummed out that we didn’t have a season because I had the mind-set of going to state for the first time since I was an eighth-grader,” Clatt said. This year was my best chance and the hardest I have worked to get there.”
Luke Hill was also part of last year’s state shuttle hurdle team. He is Lauryn’s cousin and his older brother Matthew was a state competitor for the Royals.
“At first, I was hopeful that even though the start of the season was going to be shortened we could still have a good season,” Luke Hill said. “Once it was canceled, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see what the season could have been.”
Hill and all the other senior track athletes at Colo-NESCO may be upset about missing their final shot to compete, but they wouldn’t trade their time as a Royal for anything.
“The pandemic has shown me just how wonderful the community I live in is,” Carlson said. “They have supported all of the students and especially the seniors.”