He was certainly appreciative, but also couldn't help but be mostly embarrassed.

The arena lights beamed down, at least a few thousand fans looked on from their seats and there was Mike Sloup, in the middle of it all. He and others were spread out across the Pinnacle Bank Arena court at the Nebraska boys state basketball tournament on March 9 waiting to be recognized.

The only problem was, the ceremony organizers had brought the group out right as halftime began. With a commercial break on NET set for immediately after the horn for intermission, Sloup, and his fellow award winners were left to stand there for what seemed like an eternity.

For a guy who'd rather do his work behind the scenes, it was, needless to say, a little uncomfortable.

"We stood out there for a while. We were out in front of the crowd for...quite a long time it seemed like," Sloup remembered about that day.

"I did a little research on this award to see what it entails and who has received it before and quickly recognized there are some very, very important people who have received this award. It’s people I respect and people that, wow, I don’t even belong in the same class with these people."

The Distinguished Service Award, given out by the Nebraska State Activities Association since 1979, is meant to recognize individuals in an overall sense to the NSAA for long serving in a variety of NSAA activities or contributions which impacted the NSAA as a whole.

For nearly two decades now, Sloup has been doing that on a daily basis at Lakeview and Schuyler High Schools.

Sloup, a graduate of David City High School, earned his degree in physical education with a concentration in athletic training from Midland University in 1999, worked one year at Omaha Benson, three as the trainer for the Sioux Falls Stampede hockey team in South Dakota then moved back to the area and took a position with the Columbus Community Hospital in 2003.

He's been contracted out to care for Viking and Warrior athletes ever since.

"When I think back on this season, which was a special one for our girls basketball team. I will always remember looking in the training room after school to see how many wounded warriors we had. Regardless of how many were in there seeking treatment, they would always be to practice on time," Lakeview girls hoops coach Monte Jones said. 

"No matter how many ankles had to be wrapped, no matter how many players needed therapy before or after practice, Mike would get it done and done efficiently. He would approach every athlete with compassion and wisdom. 

"Any success we have, we owe a great debt to Mike Sloup.  He is truly deserving of an award for service, because when I think of him, I think servant."

Sloup found out about the award about a month ahead of time during a phone call from NSAA Assistant Director Nate Neuhaus. Others who have received the award Telegram readers may recognize include former Scotus Central Catholic coach and Athletic Director Gary Puetz, longtime Fremont coach and A.D. Al Bahe and WOWT sportscaster Ross Jernstrom.

"The biggest reason why I feel so fortunate to have Mike Sloup as our athletic trainer is because I believe Mike Sloup has literally saved Columbus area athletes' lives," Lakeview football coach Kurt Frenzen said.

"Mike Sloup has made me more aware of head injuries, dangers of inclement weather (lightning) and heat illness. It is my belief, because of Mike’s efforts to educate our area coaches in these areas, lives have been saved. I have also seen Mike work and care for athletes that had suffered potential catastrophic injuries. It is my view that Mike’s calmness and professionalism is in these situations are matched by none."

Sloup said the love for his career is renewed daily in the interactions he has with athletes in a variety of activities. The greatest satisfaction of all is seeing one of those athletes return from a significant injury and taking pride in whatever small part he might have played in returning them to the field, the court or the track.

"Mike does so much for our school and students. Most people in our community realize that he is a top-notch athletic trainer and that the service he provides for our student-athletes is second to none. What many people don't realize about Mike is how many other things that he does for our school and community that are not part of his job description," Lakeview wrestling coach Jeff Bargen said.

"He will, at the drop of a hat, help out anyone in need. Mike has become a person who helps kids with transportation, will supply snacks for kids that need to eat, works with kids on homework and help keep up softball and football fields. Mike is deeply woven into the fabric of our Lakeview community and we are lucky to have him."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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