The last mortar board has been thrown into the sky. The last tassel has been flipped to the other side. The diplomas signed and handed out. The class of 2019 is a wrap. I have no doubt these students will make their mark on the world; some already have and more are sure to follow.
One young graduate from Florence, Gabe Bennett, has been changing the world for some time now. For the past few years, he and his parents have made the trip to the Costa Rica where they work in a medical clinic . Bennett helped build the temporary facilities, and helped out wherever needed. At home in Florence, he’s a cattleman. His 4H herd has grown to a nice little herd. As a 4H beef member, he recognized a need at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds and set about improving the Beef Barn. This was his Eagle Scout project. Now, his next venture is about to begin. He will be attending the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island with a goal of going on to the U.S. Naval Academy. As a football player at Florence, he learned the value of teammates. Now he’s getting ready for the ultimate team experience.
There are two young women from Florence who have already faced adversity throughout their high school career. One, Danielle Zahn, faced hers early in her career. As a freshman, she was a phenomenal basketball player with passes and shots that were beyond her young years. But, at the All Valley All Star Game, she tore her ACL. Dani worked hard rehabbing her knee and came back her sophomore year. She was a little bit slower and not quite on her game. But she worked hard and was gaining ground when she was injured again. Again she worked hard to rehab. Her passing and ball handling skills were better than ever. She was even able to come back and play softball too. Her steals and passes will continue to dazzle basketball fans in the future when she goes on to play at MSU Billings next year. Dani, your passion for what you love will take you many places. Enjoy the journey.
Another Lady Falcon had bad luck strike this spring. Shannon Byrne was the starting pitcher for the Florence softball team. Softball runs in the family with her two older sisters leading the way to all state status and championships. Shannon herself was a member of the back-to-back state championship team in 2017 and 2018. It looked as if Florence had reloaded to make a three peat with a senior heavy team and Shannon leading the way. However a sprained ankle midway through the season slowed the Lady Falcons down. Shannon’s ankle was badly injured but she was able to come back for the final two weekends of the season and help the team take second at state. The Byrne dynasty at Florence is finished for now. Scott, Shannon’s dad has stepped down as an assistant coach. But remember this lesson Shannon, a family that plays together, has fun!
Skipping to the south end of the valley where Darby graduated their seniors a couple of weeks ago. Another familiar name, Casey Ehmann, has run her last race as a Darby Tiger. Casey is kind of quiet and not one to seek the limelight, unless she has a ball in her hand or a race to run. Then, look out! In her grade school years, she perfected the free throw and had success in the local competitions. This skill carried her through her high school basketball career. Her shooting from the free throw line, mid court or even long range has been a problem for her defenders since she was a freshman. More problems for her defenders were her speed and quickness on the court. This carried over to the track where she excelled in the sprints and the hurdles. This spring, she captured her second state championship in the 300 hurdles.
Brandon Winters is another 2019 graduate of Darby. This kid wasn’t really on my radar until this year. I knew him to be the tall, lanky blond who played basketball but something happened this year. He gained confidence in himself and became a better player. While he was intense on the court, you could also see he was really having fun. That’s an important lesson to remember, do your job well but enjoy it too.
Haley Kampka of Stevensville has been a three sport athlete for most of high school. But this year she decided to concentrate on the sport she truly loves, softball. With her size and athletic ability, she could have easily been a star on the hardwood and I admit, I was disappointed to not see her there. But the smiles on her face during softball made up for that. Her confidence, knowledge of the game, and hard work helped Stevensville to a trip to the state tournament. Even at her last bat as a Yellowjacket, she still had a smile on her face. Keep smiling Haley Kampka, and you’ll go far.
Another Stevi kid, Logan Roth, bounced from Stevensville to Corvallis and back to Stevensville during high school and graduated where he started, Stevensville. He’s a super athlete that has excelled in basketball and track. Although very quiet, he comes alive on the basketball court and can shoot the lights out during a game. In track, he had one goal, to best his brother’s record in the long jump and triple jump. Logan doesn’t really care to take the beaten path, he’s more content to follow his own. Don’t lose that independent streak; it will take you many places you’ve never even dreamed of Logan Roth.
Ashley Hopper Chavez of Victor likes to have fun. It was never more evident that this year at a basketball game in Victor when she showed up on crutches. As the leading scorer and team leader for the struggling Lady Pirates, I was very worried that something bad had happened to her. When I asked her, she got a mischievous grin on her face and said, “I’m fine, I just want them (the other team) to think I’m hurt.” She always plays her hardest and has been a strong leader for the Lady Pirates. Keep on having fun, Ashley, (but not too much!)
Tristan Chavez is another Victor Pirate. His transition to the leader on the field and the court has been a process since he was a freshman. Back then, he was kind of chubby and a bit slow, and not really willing to talk to people. Over the past four years, he has lost about 100 pounds, gained a load of confidence and became a leader. Seniors at Victor are paired with kindergartners at the beginning of the school year. He was paired with my granddaughter and never once ignored her or her classmates before or after a game. It warmed my heart to see him grab her and lift her up to celebrate a win. Keep on paying attention to the younger ones, Tristan Chavez, and setting a good example. You’ll never go wrong.
I’ve watched Cam Rothie of Hamilton grow up on the basketball court. He was one of the grade school boys out on the court shooting baskets before every Bronc basketball game, and during halftime until they were run off. His practice makes perfect ethic started then. As one of the smallest players on the football field and the basketball court, he was kind of overlooked when he was younger. But big hearts come in smaller packages. Cam Rothie made his mark by working hard and keeping himself in tip-top shape. He and his fellow Broncs made it to the state tournament in basketball and to the state championship football game his senior year. His hard work inspired others to work hard also. This fall, he will be playing football at Caroll College in Helena. You’ve already learned the lesson of working hard, Cam Rothie, and I’m sure that will serve you well throughout your life.
Another Bronc who has worked hard for what he wants is Hunter Omlid. I suspect that no matter what sport he chose, he would excel in it, he’s that good of an athlete. But early on in high school, he decided upon basketball and baseball. From the time he was a freshman, Hunter’s ball sense and shooting ability on the court has wowed the fans and the other team. He’s made some memorable plays wearing the red and white of Hamilton. But his heart has always been on the diamond. For the past four years he has been a member of the Bitterroot Red Sox. He’s been one of their starting pitchers who helped carry on the tradition of winning for the Hamilton based team. Now he will carry that love of the game on to Boise State where he will continue to play baseball. I think he’ll do just fine wearing the blue and orange and make the Bitterroot proud.
Another Bronc, or rather Lady Bronc, also has a love of the diamond. Jorden Taggart has been playing softball since she was little. She’s been a student of the game and of pitching. After a knee injury early in her high school career, she came back to be a dominant pitcher and hitter. Her play during the state tournament against Hardin gave Hamilton a chance to play on Saturday morning and finish third. Taggart allowed only three hits in that game and had two hits and two RBIs for the win. Her calm during stressful situations got her and her team through the season and through the tournament. This ability to keep calm will help throughout life’s stressful situations. Keep on being cool, Jorden Taggart.
He looks like a big teddy bear and I suspect he really is. Garrett Brown of Corvallis is a gentle giant, except when he’s on the football field or in the field events at a track meet. He works hard on the football field for the block or the tackle, but then he’s the first one to help an opponent up after a play. His encouragement of others both on the field and in the throwing ring has helped many teammates and opponents. He set a new school record in the shot put this year that may stand for some time. This fall, he will embark on a new adventure, college football in North Dakota.
And then there’s Calla. Calla Haldorson has been playing basketball and throwing things for the Corvallis Blue Devils since she was a freshman. In fact, she was throwing things even earlier. As the younger sister of two football playing brothers, she learned early on how to punt, pass, and kick. She won the national Punt, Pass, and Kick competition in 2016. I found she was extremely shy when I interviewed her but we soon became fast friends. As a basketball player, she was one of the best throughout her high school career, but it was throwing the discus that put her into an elite group. She is one of only a handful of athletes who won the state championship in the same event, the discus, four years in a row. She will be remembered for that accomplishment as well she should. But I’ll remember her for the tears in her eyes when she first saw me after my cancer diagnosis and the hugs she’s given me throughout the years.
Congratulations to the Class of 2019. Have fun, work hard, keep smiling, and never lose your compassion for others.