An athletic director tweeted a photo from a basketball game. A mother posted a message on Facebook. And in two small towns in different parts of Minnesota, high school sports provided a glimpse of their genuine nature, the best part.
Too often we see the other side. The negative situations that sometimes pop up in prep sports, which distract from the positive life lessons that high school sports offer those blessed to be involved.
This past Friday night provided two examples of the good. One in St. Charles, one in Pine City. Two communities that should feel proud.
Start in St. Charles, 25 miles southeast of Rochester. Back on Jan. 21, contact tracing from exposure to COVID-19 forced the high school boys' varsity basketball team, including every coach in the program, to quarantine for 14 days.
A few players weren't required to quarantine because they tested positive for COVID in November. Senior Harper Schaber and junior Noah Disbrow were in that group.
The varsity, JV and ninth grade teams were scheduled to play that night. The varsity obviously had to cancel. The JV and freshman teams had players available but no coaches.
Schaber told athletic director Scott McCready that he would coach them. Schaber is a go-getter who hopes to become a coach someday and plans to major in special education in college. If it rains in the morning during baseball season, Schaber sends McCready, who also coaches baseball, a text offering to squeegee water off the field during lunch.
McCready took him up on his offer to coach. Schaber and another varsity player coached that night, with McCready sitting behind the bench. That whole day was chaotic. The ninth grade team lost.
Afterward, McCready asked Schaber how he'd like to proceed since the varsity still had two weeks to quarantine. Schaber and Disbrow offered to keep coaching the freshmen because those kids deserved the chance to play.
"We have to make this work," Schaber told his athletic director.
So they got to work. Schaber created daily practice plans. He studied video of the team's loss to figure out what areas to work on, specifically defense. Schaber and Disbrow ran the team in practices all week, with an adult present for supervision, though none was necessary. The freshmen listened and followed directions.
"I could feel their trust," Schaber said.
St. Charles is a town of 3,800, so Schaber already knew every freshman's name, their parents and the streets they live on. Both Schaber and Disbrow are multisport athletes who are leaders in school and role models to younger kids.
They took their coaching job seriously, right down to their gameday attire, which they picked out two days before the game.
"We thought it would be cool if we dressed up like we were professionals," Disbrow said.
They wore black dress pants with a black shirt and orange tie, representing their school colors. Schaber had his mom help with his tie.
"I had a full Windsor going," he said.
They made sure to wear watches and matching face masks, and they introduced themselves to the Chatfield coach before tip-off. They used a whiteboard to draw up plays and adjustments during timeouts and halftime.
St. Charles won by 20.
McCready snapped a picture of his two student coaches on the bench during the game and posted it on his Twitter account, with this caption: "I think we're in pretty good hands."
The tweet went viral, which caught those involved by surprise. They didn't think they were doing anything special. Just doing what felt right.
"Both would do anything for you," McCready said.
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That spirit also emerged in Pine City, which hosted Duluth Marshall in girls' basketball. Marshall star guard Gianna Kneepkens needed 11 points to become the 21st girls' player in state history to reach 3,000 points.
Since visiting fans were not allowed to attend the game due to COVID restrictions, Kneepkens' mom, Betsy, posted a request on Facebook asking if any Pine City parents at the game could take a picture of her daughter's historic moment. Her post spread quickly.
The schools found a compromise. Kneepkens' parents could attend the game as part of Marshall's team contingent, thus technically not fans.
Betsy operated the video camera while her husband kept stats. They were delighted to be there.
What they saw floored them.
Pine City parents made signs for their daughter, congratulating her on her achievement. They gave her a standing ovation when she made a three-pointer to reach 3,000 points. Pine City officials stopped the game and presented her with the game ball. People the Kneepkens didn't know took photos and shared them with the family.
"They did everything that I think would happen at someone's home school," Betsy said.
Kneepkens tied her career-high with 51 points in a win. And her parents got to be there in person to witness it.
"It's the only way to keep sanity in this craziness, really trying to reach out and help each other," her mom said. "Sometimes helping even if you don't know who that person is. That's what makes it so beautiful."
Bravo, Pine City. And Bravo, coach Harper and coach Noah.