As I sit here in my office staring at a blank screen, I wonder how to put my thoughts into words.
This week will mark an ending of one era and a beginning of a new one. On Tuesday night, both the Isle and Onamia school boards voted to combine all the remaining sports. Starting next year, we will be the Mille Lacs Raiders. As I type that, I choke back a tear and reflect.
I have so many mixed emotions. I started out as an Isle Indian. I graduated from Isle and played in sports during the time of the Blue Ox games. I then coached in Isle for a few years during college and while subbing in both Isle and Onamia. I moved away for three years, and when I came back, I became an Onamia Panther. I taught in Onamia for 22 years and coached for more than six of them. And now for the last four years, I have been an Isle Husky. I have enjoyed every year of my career because each town and school had its own identity and style.
So this tear is not out of fear of change. Through the years, I have chosen change and had it thrust upon me. I can deal with change. I feel change can be good, but I do not change for the sake of changing. I make sure it is needed. I try to make sure that I have done everything I could to avoid the change. However, at some point, the change needs to happen.
This tear is for loss. I am in mourning. I need to go through the stages of grief, and then I will be ready to embrace the decision. However, don’t tell me that it was the best decision for all and that I should just get over it. It was the best decision for some, but not all. Much was said about the facts and numbers, but life is not just facts and numbers. If that were true, the miracle in the 1980 Olympics would not have happened. Feelings are what will make this work or will hinder its progress.
The Panthers and the Huskies will be missed. They are a big part of the history as we move forward, but they will be gone. My biggest fear is that they will take athletes with them when they go. If we will lose any athlete from either school, that will be the loss. There are so many reasons for athletes leaving already, and we just added more: For some players, the change will be too much to overcome. The new coach may not understand them, they will miss their old coach, they will be mad that we made this change, or their schedule will not work with extra time that is now needed. The list goes on and on.
However, as I wipe my tear away, I can now look to the future. As a community, we need to step up and support our players, coaches and schools. We need to be ready to cheer for our team and embrace the change. Employers, please stay in the loop, so you know how much time your student-athlete’s sport will need to participate. Remember that sports are one of the reasons they are a good employee. The skills they have gained on the court, mat, course, or field make them good workers. The first year will be the hardest with all of the unknowns. Help them to navigate the change.
As the Mille Lacs community, we will need to show our Raider Pride as we move forward. Schools will have to make the change and rebrand. Coaches, your job is the hardest. You have to meet new players and get to know them in a short amount of time. Take the time to build the rapport with your team and help them embrace the change together.
Players, your emotions will get you through this. Know that the decision was made for you. Everyone wants you to be able to play your sport at your level and to be successful. Give the change a chance and put your heart into it.
My page is now full and my eyes are dry. I have said my piece and I feel better. I am now ready to help any player or coach navigating the new path. Together we can make this a smooth transition. So ... GO RAIDERS!
Guest columnist Melisa Maxwell is the dean of students at Isle Elementary.