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Paige Steinman fought injury to run until her bone broke, and she darn near placed in the top 10 of her district anyway. If the people in charge of the decisions that would impact her life had given 1 percent of that determination in getting it right . . . . who knows what I could have written in The Pender Times this week instead of this. 

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It’s a bit unusual for me to write about events prior to when they’ll be published in the newspaper and put them on the website first.

But, then again, there’s nothing at all “usual” about the Pender High School girls cross country team in 2019.

This is going to get a little long, but I do hope you’ll keep reading . . . . 

 

This group of young ladies may not have won a district championship yesterday (Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019), but what they did accomplish is much more impressive and will be remembered in ways the average district championship rarely is.

Paige and Piper Steinman arrived at Pender High School during the 2017-18 school year as sophomores. Twins, they are both gifted runners with a combination of genetic attributes and work ethics that anyone who knows them also knows suits them perfectly for the grueling sport of cross country.

The trouble was that at the school they were in prior to Pender, it wasn’t an option. Their path to transferring to Pender wasn’t ultimately a smooth one. I’m careful here not to dwell too much on the details of that (which I’ll get to toward the bottom of this) — other than to say at this point that the lack of opportunity to compete in the sport as freshmen cost them that year of eligibility, and as sophomores they were unable to compete in varsity due to the aforementioned “unsmooth” transfer that was punctuated with the Nebraska School Activities Association not allowing them to compete in varsity until their junior and senior years.

This series of events cost them and their teammates opportunities to score at a high level throughout the 2017 season. As talented as the Steinmans are, they have many pieces that make them a true cross country team. Many team accolades would have been attained given the times they were running.  As juniors, they and their teammates achieved several goals, as anticipated, including an East Husker Conference championship and a trip to state as a team. Paige was the silver medalist in 2018 in Kearney, as a matter of fact.

And, in 2019, they had a heck of a ride in team races and with individual medals. They again won the EHC title last week, despite multiple injuries affecting their cast of characters.

They appeared to be in a great position to win the D-3 district they were hosting yesterday, to qualify for state as a team and to medal several runners individually. At state, they’d have been among the favorites.

What happened next is the kind of thing no one wants to see, but everyone should know. Paige’s times made her the clear frontrunner to win the race, with Piper and other Lady Pendragons not far behind. No one can plan for and anticipate injuries, though (words I’ll repeat later), and Paige was going to have to battle one nagging her just to help her team to that coveted district title.

Piper ran a wonderful race, leading from start to finish to become the district champion as Paige had been a year earlier. Alexis Bodlak, who was injured almost the entire season, returned to run and gutted out a finish that would not earn her a medal but would factor into a team score in some vital ways. Faith Morris and Jessica Krueger finished 9th and 10th.

Paige did not finish.

Paige was in a position to medal throughout the race despite her injury, and it appeared in the final couple hundred yards that Piper would be first and Faith, Jessica and Paige would likely wind up in 8th, 9th and 10th (or something very close to that). With about 175 yards to go, though, Paige’s already pained and unsteady stride turned to a sudden collapse. She fell, rolled to her back and, despite the same kind of effort that won her so many races and put her into position to place in this one, she could not move.

She left Twin Creeks Golf Club where the race was held in an ambulance. Her effort for almost all of the four kilometers would not count toward her team’s final score.

And she would come to find out at Pender Community Hospital a short time later that she had run until she broke her femur. If you don’t know, that’s the largest and strongest bone in the human body and stretches from your knee to your hip. She may have come up short of those four kilometers, but it wasn’t for lack of effort, desire or worthiness.

The Lady Pendragons would be edged in the team score by two points — 34 to 32 — and they will be without their perennially top runner in Kearney next week on Friday during the state meet.

They posed with their absolutely remarkable district runner-up plaque at the hospital after the district meet with smiles on their faces. 

I would like for anyone still reading to look at that image closely. Their pride in what they accomplished is exuded by it. But do not forget the tears and cries that came just minutes before and will last days after. They should be celebrated for what they accomplished. If sports are meant to prepare us for life — and they are — this group has attained knowledge and fortitude that will serve them well. Wish them all a congratulations when you see them, for none has been more deserved.

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Now that you know what these girls accomplished, I’m going to wrap this up with some food for thought for adults out there who find themselves in a position where the decisions they make impact young people.

It is my opinion that there’s really no reason these young ladies didn’t get the opportunity to realize more of their abilities during their high school careers, regardless of which school(s) that would have represented. And that’s something that can’t be restored to them — but something like it doesn’t have to be repeated in the future.

The Steinman twins just wanted to compete in a sport for which they were gifted. They would’ve gladly done that at the school they were at, and they could’ve done it via a cooperative agreement with Pender Public Schools. Neither was possible after a school board vote in the spring of 2017. The NSAA has some transfer requirements that exist for good reasons (too often, an athlete might want to transfer for the opportunity to win bigger at another school — which can lead to “recruiting” and other ills). Athletes need to state their desire to transfer by a May 1 deadline — or they have to sit out the first 90 days of eligibility at their next school. This effectively wipes out the fall sports and half of winter sports.

Their school board at the time did not vote against a co-op with Pender until after the May 1 deadline had passed. They transferred anyway to compete someday and appealed to the NSAA, given their circumstances with the district they were in, to see if a waiver could be granted.

No statement was given by the NSAA for its ultimate decision to bar them from competing on varsity right away, but I am told that two factors that weighed into it were that the girls still had a couple of years of eligibility and that they should have been able to anticipate the direction the failed co-op would go.

I understand that the world is a busy and complex place. Policy decisions are made every day that impact people and are not popular or perfect. But this is a case that needs to be a reminder to people that the future can’t be predicted (no one can plan for and anticipate injuries), and there are cases that deserve to be taken on their specific merits.

Paige Steinman fought injury to run until her bone broke, and she darn near placed in the top 10 of her district anyway. If the people in charge of the decisions that would impact her life had given 1 percent of that determination in getting it right . . . . who knows what I could have written in The Pender Times this week instead of this.