Prior to moving to Columbus and working at The Telegram, the only things I knew about the town were Pawnee Plunge, Pawnee Park, the Dairy Queen across the street from Pawnee Park and the viaduct over the train tracks.
It was the “midway” point on trips to Norfolk for baseball games. I played a couple in Columbus, went to the water park once and referred to Columbus as the “town with the big bridge.”
I didn’t know anything about Scotus Central Catholic or Lakeview and couldn’t tell you what Columbus High’s mascot was.
Two years later, I consider myself an expert on the three local high schools, at least their sports teams, and leave feeling like Columbus is a second home to me.
This was never going to be a long-lasting stop in my career, I have big aspirations that I want to chase, but I will certainly take fond memories away from getting to know the coaches and players in the area.
A little recency bias might be coming into play here, but the Scotus’ state basketball title will always be one of my favorite memories of my time here.
After winning, a couple of the girls talked about how nobody expected them to end up on top. I’ll admit, I was one of them. I enjoy being right, but this was one of the times I enjoyed being wrong way more. It was such a compelling story that had a little bit of everything -- an injury to a key player, upsetting top-ranked teams, big-time plays and overtime in the championship game. I love writing about great stories and the Shamrocks were a great story.
It was kind of fitting to bookend my time at The Telegram with a Scotus state title. After all, that’s how I started my time here, although this one came from the boys soccer team.
I was still a wide-eyed newbie at the time and I loved watching the Shamrocks roll through the 2016 season, outside of one bad weekend.
The state final against Elkhorn South was a classic, coming down to a last-minute goal from Nathan Ostdiek to clinch Scotus’ third consecutive state title, the first boys soccer team, regardless of class, to win three in a row. Just two months into the job and I got to see something that’s never been done before in Nebraska.
Then there is Mother Nature’s role in all these sports.
My first week on the job gave me a pleasant reminder of something I knew back in high school -- the start of the spring sports season is brutal. I think it was about 35 degrees with a rain, snow and sleet mix and the wind blowing like crazy while out at the Scotus Invite at Wilderness Park. To be fair, the wind always blows like crazy out there, but it’s much easier to deal with when it’s 70 degrees. Props to the parents for sitting through that and all the other bad weather events. And then there was walking through ankle deep mud for two days at the state track meet in 2017.
I love recruiting, so getting a chance to watch future Division 1 athletes in high school was a highlight for me. They weren’t from Columbus, but Noah Vedral from Wahoo Neumann and Cameron Jurgens from Beatrice absolutely looked the part when they came to Pawnee Park’s Memorial Stadium in 2016.
Scotus graduate Cody Mroczek won a bunch of state titles and was one of the best all-around athletes I saw in my two years, rivaled by current Columbus High student Michael Koch. Colton Wolfe was the most dominant athlete I saw and was fun to watch. I didn’t grow up a fan of wrestling, but I grew to appreciate the abilities of these kids and was always impressed with the wrestling talent in the area. Marika Spencer already has two state titles to her name, three including the Shamrocks’ basketball championship, and still has her senior year of track, where she’ll look to defend her shot put and discus titles. It was always entertaining to watch other basketball teams attempt to keep one of strongest girls in the state away from the basket. Most weren't successful. Mroczek and Wolfe are in their freshman seasons at Nebraska and Spencer will join them as a Husker next year.
As impressive as they were, I was always just as amazed at a freshman who came in and, while maybe not dominant to those levels, still immediately established themselves as one of the best players in their class.
Gracie Borer set Lakeview’s school record for goals in a season as a freshman in 2016. She was robbed of her sophomore season due to a knee injury suffered in basketball, but I look forward to following along from afar to see if she can repeat the prolific goal scoring this season. Tyler Palmer led the Columbus High baseball team in hitting as a freshman last season and started at quarterback for the Scotus football team. Palmer already has an offer from Nebraska for baseball and it’ll be interesting to see what other offers come in for the sophomore.
Jaidyn Garrett started her high school track career off with an all-class gold medal in the pole vault and will threaten the school record and area record as soon as this season. I’m sure the class and state records will probably be on her mind by the time she is a senior.
Finally, I only watched two games’ of Humphrey St. Francis’ freshman Allison Weidner, but she’s already one of the best basketball players I’ve seen. She has uncanny handles and passing abilities and can’t wait to see where she ends up.
And who could forget Kyle Anderson?
One of the coolest individual moments in my two years here was watching the then-CHS senior make the Discoverers’ final basket at the old high school. I wrote in my story that nobody would remember the score of that game against Kearney, but everyone would remember Anderson’s layup. Well, it’s a little over a year later and I don’t have a clue what the score was.
There really are a hundred other things that I could write about here, but I feel I’ve rambled on long enough.
It’s time to move on to my next journey as I try to make it as a journalist. I’m going to do some freelance work for The Associated Press in Kansas City in the hopes of making some contacts and turning it into a fulltime job in a major city.
Columbus has been a wonderful introduction into sports journalism. It was a pleasure meeting the coaches, players and parents over the last two years and, hopefully, you enjoyed my writing.
Thanks for the memories.