Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. It was a new kind of sports awards banquet.
The Nederland High School Fall Sports Award ceremony began in the school auditorium, where staff and coaches welcomed everyone, and then it was moved downstairs into the school cafeteria for a pasta dinner, after which the teams broke up into separate classrooms where their families and coaches honored the athletes and took a look back on the season.
This configuration gave the teams a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of all athletes together before they had a more specific discussion amongst themselves, the inside jokes, the times they laughed together and the times they cried together.
NMSHS Athletic Director Richard Elertson, in his first year on the job said that this year’s athletes, especially the football team, faced more adversity than the usual challenges a high school sports team offers.
With diminishing numbers and a new coach, they knew it would be a year of digging deep, finding what they needed inside themselves to keep the program alive. Incoming coach Beth Buglione stepped into a difficult situation, but helped the boys continue to improve while they developed a loyalty to each other and a determination to keep improving and growing and come back stronger next year.
“This team is a collection of young men who came to practice all the time and because there weren’t many of them, they had to play the whole game, all four quarters. The first game might have been embarrassing to some of them, to have so few players. But we didn’t care what the scoreboard said, the boys earned the admiration of other teams and coaches for the way they handled themselves. A scoreboard can’t measure how these boys have grown as people and we are proud of them,” says Elertson.
He moved on to speak about the volleyball program and the last-minute decision to hire Kirt McCracken as the head coach. McCracken, the boys’ basketball coach didn’t know that much about volleyball, but he does know about coaching. Elertson offered McCracken a huge debt of gratitude.
“He listened to the older girls and let them lead the way. He is of high character and one of the most reliable coaches, even used up his vacation time to work with the girls.”
The NHS cross-country team also had a new coach, in fact, this was Kory Skattum’s first experience as a head coach and he and the Nordic skiers put together a state champion team. He had high standards. He asked the team to be at the school early in the morning and they were eager to work hard.
Volleyball coach McCracken told the teams and their families that they were in good hands with the new athletic director and he was grateful to assistant coach Bill Thidebeau, this season’s assistant coach. He also praised last year’s head coach Shelby Nation. “Half of what I know is from Shelby,” says McCracken. He told the freshman players that they were the faces of the future.
He then presented the special awards. The Most Valuable Player Award went to senior Karen Sorokach; The Most Improved Player was freshman Rylee Kutscher; The Panther Award went to junior Breegan McClish; and the Best Teammate Award went to senior Mazie Pancoast.
Elertson introduced football coach Beth Buglione who took over the position in the midst of community controversy concerning the firing of former coach Aaron Jones. Elertson says, “She handled herself with Grace and focused on character building and becoming better young men. She loved her boys and the team should be proud of her.”
Buglione took the stage and had to compose herself for a minute. “Football coaches are not supposed to cry,” she said. “Right? But your kids are amazing. They listened to music that hurt my ears and took on the challenges of being a small team.
They learned discipline, stopped using bad language, left the buses and locker rooms clean, got their grades up and sat in study hall after school and helped each other out. These are awesome boys.”
Lance Bell received the Persistent Panther Award; Taylor Hoffman received the Most Valuable Player, and the Most Improved Player Award went to Cooper Nielson.
Buglione thanked the parents for the team dinners and the community for embracing her and making her feel welcome.
Elertson introduced this year’s cross-country coach, saying “I thought he was a student here.”
Cross country coach Kory Skattum said, “This was my first year as a head coach and I was terrified.”
He wasn’t scared for long. Soon the team was working hard, and he saw their improvement and talent. When the Panthers brought home the Colorado High School Athletic Association District 2A championship trophy, the team and the coach were all crying. Sarah Davidson, who has been a four-year runner and three sport a year athlete, is a senior, the only member to be leaving next year.
Most Valuable Player is sophomore Helen Cross, who is also the individual state champion, setting a new record for 2A and is ninth in the state; The Most Improved Player goes to Meg Feeley; and The Panther Award goes to Sarah Davidson and Adam Figgins.
(Originally published in the November 9, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)