CEDAR RAPIDS — Sometimes you’ve just got to do what’s right.
Maquoketa Valley High School’s senior class and West Branch’s football team are doing what’s right, and that’s a ray or three of sunlight in a very dark time.
West Branch has given up its homecoming game and senior night to travel to Delhi to play Friday. The game was agreed upon early this week after the schools had original opponents that cancelled due to COVID-19 quarantine.
In the end, that means West Branch will have only one home game in seven regular-season weeks at the Little Rose Bowl, one of the more iconic stadiums in the state. The school opened in late August at home against Tipton, had a home game a couple of weeks ago moved to Solon because of unplayable field conditions and is scheduled to finish with back-to-back out-of-towners to Durant and Dyersville Beckman.
This is a grand gesture here, for sure. One of two in this situation.
Maquoketa Valley’s seniors will honor Anna Nefzger and Teige Hunt as homecoming king and queen during what surely will be an emotional ceremony Friday night.
Nefzger died in an ATV accident in 2016 at the age of 13. Hunt died this past summer at 17 in a drowning accident on Lake Delhi.
Both would have been members of Maquoketa Valley’s Class of 2021. Their respective set of parents (Russell and Krista Hunt, Danny and Karla Nefzger) will accept the homecoming crowns on their behalf.
“I am proud of our kids for having their hearts and minds, the emotional (being) to decide that this is something that should be done,” said Maquoketa Valley Coach/Activities Director Trevor Arnold said. “Just being selfless. I know there are a lot of kids that wouldn’t choose to do this, a lot of parents that would say ‘Well, I want my kid to wear the crown.’ It makes you proud that we’ve got kids who are thinking more than just about themselves. It proves that we’ve got good kids.”
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And there are good kids at West Branch, too. They were the ones who decided to give up their homecoming game, though festivities will be conducted Monday night during a freshman-sophomore game against Maquoketa Valley at the Little Rose Bowl, or Oliphant Street Stadium, as is its proper name.
“Obviously we want to play at home because we’ve only gotten to play one game there all year. So that’s kind of a sad deal,” veteran West Branch Coach Butch Pedersen said. “But we also thought (it was proper) to show the right decision can be made, too, to honor those folks up there in a very tough situation. That’s very difficult when you lose two young ones. We just thought it would be a good thing.”
Arnold and West Branch Activities Director Jake Stenberg first contacted each other late last week about possibly playing after finding out Bellevue and Northeast Goose Lake, respectively, were not able to go. Arnold said there were scant few alternative and realistic playing partners for the schools.
“As the week went on, it was like ‘OK, we figure out something with West Branch, or we try and bring Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Davenport Assumption to Delhi,’” Arnold said. “That doesn’t make sense for us physically, plus they weren’t going to come anyway. So I called Jake back ... at noon on Monday we had our first real conversation.”
Stenberg began by telling Arnold why the game should be played at West Branch. Arnold countered with his school’s special story.
Stenberg and Pedersen talked, then Pedersen went to his coaching staff. They all agreed it was best to play at Maquoketa Valley.
Pedersen then addressed his players.
“I asked them ‘What do you think?’” Pedersen said. “They said they’d rather play at home, but if something like this comes up, let’s play. We just want to play. That’s the whole thing for all of us. This was something that could be a win-win situation.”
Arnold said had West Branch not agreed to travel, Maquoketa Valley probably would have not had a football game Friday night. The homecoming ceremony with the Hunt and Nefzger families was way more important.
But it never came to that.
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“I talked to (Pedersen) on the phone, and he said it’s one of those situations that is bigger than football, and he couldn’t say no to this,” Arnold said. “If I was on the other end of it, I would have done the same thing as Butch. I’m sure it was a hard sell to their kids. But at the end of the day, I’m sure their kids understood it was bigger than just a home game.”
It was about doing the right thing.
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