CAMBRIDGE – The crowd roared and the pep band played the school song as the athletes entered the crowded gymnasium at Cambridge-Isanti High School on Thursday morning. Classes had been put on hold so students and staff could honor their Bluejackets the day before they competed at state.
Principal Mitchell Clausen and athletic director Mark Solberg spoke to the crowd. So did the coach, the team managers and the team captains. It was a joy to behold.
Solberg said to the athletes, “You’re representing us with an awful lot of class, an awful lot of dignity. And you’re going to make us proud.”
This has become an annual event at Cambridge-Isanti, where the adapted bowling team receives as much attention and respect as any other squad in the school. The Bluejackets’ annual trip to state – this year’s tournament is being held Friday at Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Park – has become as big a part of the school calendar as football Friday nights in the fall, basketball games in the winter and track meets in the spring.
Steve Tischer is in his first year coaching the bowling team after previous experiences coaching wrestling, football and softball.
“It’s been awesome,” he said after the festivities had ended. “The competitive spirit is there. The kids are really dedicated, they always try their best. The thing that’s different is they really, really, really have fun and enjoy each other’s company and encourage each other, even other teams. We’ll bowl with another team, side by side, and it’s not competitive like it is in other sports. It’s supporting and encouraging.”
In the 1990s, the MSHSL became the first statewide high school activities body in the country to create and govern adapted sports. Also part of the yearly MSHSL schedule are adapted softball, floor hockey and soccer.
“I think it’s a great way for everyone to get involved,” said Cambridge-Isanti junior Emma Schoenecker, who is active in soccer, track and mock trial. “They’re so excited, and it’s probably the most positive sport that we have in our school. I’m really thankful for them.”
Solberg encouraged the student body to attend the state bowling tournament, saying, “It’s going to flat-out make you feel good, because they’re doing things the right way. They’re doing things to support each other, but most importantly they’re having a good time. So I encourage you to go.”
There was a great deal of applause and cheering for the bowlers, assistant coaches and managers as Tischer introduced them. He also mentioned the number of strikes and spares each bowler had this spring, along with their season scoring average. A couple of the bowlers danced as they were introduced, with others giving the crowd two big thumbs up.
The top statistics belong to senior captain Victoria Koukol, who placed seventh at state last year and this season has 25 strikes, 29 spares and a 145 average. Vicki, who was born with spina bifida, bowls from her wheelchair. Bowling won’t be her only state tournament this spring; she also will compete at the state track meet in the shot put.
“I can say with great confidence that Vicki’s going to be the only Cambridge-Isanti student who’s going to be in a state tournament this spring, twice,” Solberg said to another big round of applause.
The other team members are freshmen Callie Cox, Kaitlyn Pankan and Katelyn Rumpel; sophomores Hailey Booher, Sabrina Burke and captain Megan Servaty; and juniors Brianna Hoover, Abby Keller and captain Cory Hoover. The assistant coaches are Deb Feero, Mary Eklund and April Dahlquist, and the managers are Kalli Shugren and Stephanie West.
“I would like to say that these people are wonderful and amazing people, and being a manager is really fun,” Stephanie told the crowd. “And since I am a senior I will truly, honestly miss these people. Whenever you see these people in the hall, I’m challenging you, don’t walk past them. Give them a high five or a hug and tell them how much you really appreciate them. Because these kids have to work 10 times harder than you guys. What I learned from the team is always show compassion.”
Vicki Koukol said, “I can’t believe this will be my last time to bowl with my teammates before graduation. It just seems like yesterday when I joined the adapted bowling team as a freshman. Now I look back and I remember the good times we had when we bowled together. No matter what happens, it’s always a great day to be a Bluejacket.”
Some of the other bowlers who spoke ended their short speeches with similar words: “Go Big Blue!”
School spirit, the best kind of spirit, was in the air.
--To see a photo gallery from Cambridge-Isanti, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
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