Senior Night: The lessons sports teach can last a lifetime

Posted 3/10/21

By Bruce Karnick [email protected] Senior night, or in this case, senior day, is something high school athletes and performers look forward too as part of their journey through school. A …

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Senior Night: The lessons sports teach can last a lifetime


By Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

Senior night, or in this case, senior day, is something high school athletes and performers look forward too as part of their journey through school. A culmination of years and years of hard work and dedication to the activities they love. It is that moment in time where the student has the opportunity to publicly thank their parents for all the support; long weekends at tournaments, picking them up when they fall and encouraging them to keep trying, especially when they lose.

Ask anyone, sports teach kids important life lessons. Sometimes, those lessons and skills are obvious, and many times, they are much more subtle. There are times the lessons go unnoticed until much later in life, and occasionally, the lesson presents itself immediately and has a much larger impact than anyone can realize.

Senior day for the Raiders Boys Basketball team was one of those moments Saturday against New Prague. Senior Jake Sandquist stepped out of the Senior spotlight to give it to Sophomore Kelvin Maher.

For those that know Sandquist, what you are about to read will come as no surprise, for those that do not, you are missing out on an amazing human. Every coach, every teacher, every person that knows Jake says the same thing. Jake is ‘great’. A great kid, a great teammate, a great student, simply a great human. Imagining Jake reading this right now gives visions of the ‘come on man, stop’ humility that few 18-year old’s possess.

Traditionally, Raider coaches will fill their starting lineup with Seniors on their last home game as a thank you to the kids and parents for their support throughout the years. The Raiders have eight Seniors, only five can start in basketball. One of those spots was assigned to Sandquist and on Wednesday last week, he made a decision that only few would know about heading into the game.

Kelvin Maher’s parents, Andrea and Matt, are both Hastings graduates, Matt in 1992 and Andrea shortly after Matt. Matt has maintained a connection to sports throughout the area as not only a parent, but as a coach and a long-time statistician with the one and only Dick Cragg. In August of 2019, a tumor was discovered in Matt’s brain, which was revealed to be Glioblastoma, a very aggressive type of cancer. Sadly, the survival rate for Glioblastoma is not good and the tumor has progressed very rapidly.

Sandquist gave his history with the Mahers. “Kelvin was my neighbor growing up for eight, nine, ten years, something like that, he lived right across the street from me. His dad, football coach, like he would be out in the yard with us like playing football stuff like that. So, I’ve known him for a very long time, like since six or seven years old, maybe four or five somewhere in that area. So, I talked to him on a Wednesday night and I asked him how his dad was doing. And he said that three months ago they told him that he had three months to live.”

With all that is going on in 2021, getting that kind of news at 16 cannot be easy, even if you are preparing for the worst from the start. Sandquist knew he had to do something to help create something special for the Mahers.

“Basically, that got me thinking, I talked to him and I was like hey, I want you to start if your dad goes to the game because that would be his last memory of him seeing you play basketball,” explained Sandquist.

“To Kelvin’s credit though, he was like, ‘No I want you to start on senior night it’s your guys’ night.’ But in all honesty, it’s more important for his dad to have that last memory of him playing basketball,” added Sandquist.

Kelvin, in true Maher fashion, was quick to point out the good in others, “This action by Jake shows how much Jake cares about others, and the relationships that are built in sports can be just like family. Jake is a great teammate for caring about everybody on and off the court.”

Andrea expressed her thoughts on the situation. “It was an amazing display of character, what an incredible kid to recognize the impact he could make! We don’t know what tomorrow brings for any of us, but for Matt, it’s unlikely he’ll see Kelvin play as a See LESSONS page 10

Matt, Andrea and Raider Sophmore Kelvin Maher were treated like it was Kelvin’s Senior day thanks to the kindness of teammate Jake Sandquist. The goal is to maximize Matt’s time left with his family giving everyone involved special memories. Photo by Bruce Karnick Lessons

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senior, so to have Jake allow Matt to witness Kelvin play as a starter, like a senior, it’s like allowing us to fast forward and celebrate a moment that otherwise isn’t possible. Kelvin is going to have many moments that he won’t be able to celebrate with his dad, but Jake allowed Kelvin to have this moment to celebrate his hard work and dedication to the game and share that celebration with his dad. Matt has always been so proud of Kelvin, and always believed great things will come for him, so he felt that accomplishment seeing Kelvin start today.”

Andrea also relayed a brief message from Matt.

“Jake’s actions show the quality of the basketball program – the athlete’s character and the coaches too – that the coaches were willing to support Jake in his choice.”

Sanquist is a multi-sport athlete and involved in many other activities in school. One big thing he has learned from all those opportunities is knowing his role. He is just as comfortable as the starting quarterback as he is as the backup. He has no issues being a bench guy for basketball that helps the starters get better in practice. In the spring, he will likely be the starting catcher for baseball.

Last week, Head Coach Chad Feikema commented on Sandquists role. “Had he not taken a year off from basketball, he could have been a starter for us. He’s a great kid and a great teammate.”

Feikema went on to explain that Sandquist is the kind of kid that understands his role in whatever situation he is put in and he works to execute that role to the best of his ability, never complaining, always working hard to help lift everyone around him. So, it’s no surprise to hear the small sacrifice he made for his teammate, and it’s even less surprising to know he did it with wanting to keep it on the down low.

Sandquist told the coaches of his decision on Thursday morning, starting with Assistant Coach Paul Olson. “I went to Olson on Thursday morning and Feik on Thursday morning, and it actually brought Olson to tears in the middle of class. It was the first time I’ve seen him cry, actually, which was kind of shocking to see. I didn’t realize how big of an impact this would have on that many people.”

That sentiment was echoed by Andrea in a series of messages to Jakes mother, Jeana Sandquist. “Your son is amazing… I just got a call from an incredibly emotional basketball coach… to tell me that Jake asked to give up his opportunity to start on varsity on Saturday so that Kelvin can start, so that Matt can see that. I’m truly in tears as I type this – the greatest thing is, that I do plan to bring Matt on Saturday, so he should be there for this moment. Jake is so incredibly thoughtful, and I really just wanted to make sure you heard about how much his kindness means to us. Please pass this along to Jake, with a huge thank you!!”

Even at a time where her family has earned the ability to focus inward, Andrea still shared a motherly concern for Jake. “I do feel terrible that Jake won’t be starting! I can’t help but feel he will forever remember his gesture more than missing out on starting in the game… Kelvin has always said Jake really cares about people – he’s truly showing that with this example. I’m grateful!”

Cragg, the longtime Raider Announcer, asked Coach Feikema if he should make a big deal out of it at the start of the game and he was told not to. Thankfully, that memo never reached the sports desk here at the Journal, and it is a story that must be told.

Something as pure and as wonderful as this kind of a gesture cannot fly under the radar, sorry Jake. The introductory statement given to the coaches, teachers, and leaders at the school before the start of every season is, The Journal wants to showcase our awesome young adults in all that they do, not just in sports, but in life. The fact that you just did this, expecting zero in return, really amplifies the need to tell everyone.

This story is here to remind us, even in the darkest of times, there is light somewhere to be found if you know where to look. For Hastings, that light is a young man who wore 33 this year for the boy’s basketball team. He did not play a second in the game he was supposed to start, and he’s good with that, his role today was to elevate his teammate Kelvin and help the Maher family make memories, and he did that in exemplary fashion.