Rocky Hulne: There is a special connection between the youth and high school athletes

Published 5:30 pm Friday, December 23, 2022

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My first ever sports memory was not anything I did or any game that I saw on television.

It was a simple moment that made me see the impact that sports have on the community – from ages five to 95.

I was a second grader in Reeder, North Dakota and my class of about 10 kids was sitting in the empty gym as we awaited whatever assembly or planned function was going to take place. As we waited, there was a high school senior girls basketball player dribbling around and shooting hoops.

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It may have seemed like a normal sight to the staff in the building, but all of our eyes were locked in as this girl was swishing jump shots and dribbling up and down the court with ease.

The Blooming Prairie girls basketball team recently celebrated its youth basketball players. Photo provided

To a bunch of wide eyed elementary students, she might as well have been Michael Jordan visiting our school for the day. But that girl did not play for the Chicago Bulls, she played for the Reeder Rockets and when I realized that, I made it my goal to someday become a Rocket myself.

After a couple of family moves, I ended up being a Hatton Flyer and a Shell Lake Laker instead, but I always remember that feeling of finding a role model within your own community.

That moment came back into my head over these past couple of weeks as the Austin boys and girls basketball teams and Blooming Prairie girls basketball teams held youth basketball nights, where younger players get to come to the game for free and meet up with the varsity team before and after the game. The Austin girls went as far as setting up an autograph table after their game.

The event is a highlight of the year for the youth players, who are striving to reach the levels of the high school players.

For the varsity kids, it gives them a great chance to remember where they came from, and it gives them a reason to smile when they are embraced by young fans.

If these varsity players present themselves in a way that is encouraging and responsible in school and on the court, it will surely reflect on the young and impressionable players.

That’s why it is so important for high school athletes to remember that they are role models, whether they like it or not, and there are always eyes watching them. To put on the jersey on a Friday night is about more than just trying to win games, it is about representing your community and showing the next generation how things should be done.

The majority of the athletes in this area have done a great job of being positive in this manner. Let’s keep it going in 2023.