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A wizard behind the curtain

A wizard behind the curtain A wizard behind the curtain

It’s a rare thing when a team or athlete makes it to a state tournament. For many it’s the crowning achievement in an athletic career. It’s the product of countless hours of practice and the reward for hours of commitment and dedication.

I never got to experience that thrill when I was in high school, though I definitely wanted it and my teams came close. But I’ve gotten to experience that thrill many, many times thanks to my job. In the past three years I’ve covered state tournaments in Green Bay for girls basketball. I’ve been to the Fox Cities to cover Athens’ second baseball title.

There have been trips to La Crosse for state track and I’ve made a few treks to Wisconsin Rapids for the state cross-country meet. I covered my third straight state cross-country tournament on Saturday, and I only had to walk about five blocks to get there.

Sometimes, amidst all the uncertainty and strangeness of the world, and trust me, 2020 is about as strange as it gets, the world blesses you with something unique, something extraordinary.

Not only did I get to watch the Colby girls run at the state meet for the first time in 22 years, they did it on their home course. With the banners, socially distanced crowd and music playing, I barely recognized the course, and have been to a cross-country meet there at least a dozen times in the past three years.

It was a unique race, and you can read about it, as well as how the girls performed, in my sports section. But to me, the impressive thing was how seamless and smooth the event ran. I didn’t spot a single hiccup or problem.

Any event, big or small, take a lot of people working behind the scenes. Colby had only eleven days to prepare for the state tournament, and with COVID-19 forcing all new guidelines, it was a huge undertaking. Luckily, Colby has a proud community who came up big at the proverbial moment’s notice.

There was Matt Oehmichen acting as MC, playing music, making announcements and getting local businesses involved. There was Dr. Steve Kolden and our new athletic director Jerry Smith working behind the scenes. You’ve probably seen Jerry but have no idea who he is or what he looks like since the poor man has been forced to wear a mask since he took the job. It’s been a challenge, I am sure, for him to be an AD during COVID-19. He also has to coordinate between the three different fall conferences.

Swimming is in the Great Northern, our two football teams and Abby volleyball are in the Marawood, and cross-country and the Colby volleyball team are in the Cloverbelt. That’s a lot to handle, especially when teams cancel a game and leave you scrambling to find a replacement game at the last second.

But the true wizard behind all of this is cross-country coach Bryon Graun. He’s a humble dude, but you can tell he loves to help and loves to coach. The best coaches want to make a deep and lasting impact on a life.

He certainly did that on Saturday. Bryon’s tireless efforts allowed Colby to host a state meet in uncertain times. It also allowed him to impact the entire state and the life of every runner who competed. I’m sure he’d like to stay behind the scenes, but it’s never a bad thing to congratulate someone for a job well done. Kudos, coach!