A salute and thank you to the Class of 2020

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

I can only imagine how Ridgway and Johnsonburg High School athletes, cheerleaders, and band members of the Class of 2020 must be thinking as their high school careers have come to a bittersweet end. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual pomp and circumstances of graduation have eluded them but they can move into the next phase of their lives knowing their feats on the fields, courts, mats, and tracks have provided us with joy and memories that will never be forgotten. They were inspirational, to say the least.
No longer will they wear the maroon-and-white of Ridgway and the blue-and-gold of Johnsonburg. Having covered them for the past two years I’ve seen things that have made me laugh and cry and have brought emotions I forgot I had. They’ve provided me an easel to paint a picture while reporting their feats. They’ve won championships and endured heart breaks when coming up short. I’m sure if you ask their coaches they’ll tell you they have learned as much from the seniors as the seniors have learned from them.
For fans, the seniors have provided an escape from life’s mundane day-to-day routines. What a joy it was to be a part of it. I’ve seen first-hand the sweat and blood that has poured from their bodies while giving every ounce of energy they had. Not every effort ended in a win, but they should never feel that coming up short was a loss. The hours and hours the student-athletes of the Class of 2020 have put in throughout their careers and sacrifices they made to entertain us is something deserving recognition. They excelled not just in sports. The academic achievements they’ve earned and the volunteer work they’ve given their communities has not gone unnoticed. Their leadership on and off the fields, courts, and tracks will allow the Class of 2021 and beyond to better accept the challenge of continuing the legacies of the two schools.
While recently putting together a video focused on the seniors I spent much time going through pictures and thinking what had to be going through their minds at the moment the photo was snapped? I can’t begin to tell you the emotional roller coaster I rode realizing that I’ll never be a little part of their lives again. Yes, every picture tells a story.
Since the closing of schools and canceling of spring sports I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many seniors and I must say I’m not only impressed with how they’ve handled the COVID-19 situation but also how they’ve taken it as just another lesson in life.
Elkers Head Football coach Mark Heindl often says “it takes a village to raise a child.” The Ridgway, Johnsonburg, and surrounding hamlets should be proud of how they helped raise the Class of 2020 and turned them into the fine young women and men they’ve become. Let’s not forget the parents and families. For many, they’ve seen the last of their kids compete. For others, they get to keep making sacrifices to allow their daughters and sons to carry on the family name wearing the uniforms of their schools. Parents – you did well and will continue to do so. You too should share in the success your daughters and sons were able to obtain through your efforts.
Over the past couple years perhaps what I respect most from the Class of 2020 is the way they’ve carried themselves. Their display of sportsmanship is like no other. They’ve lifted their teammates up when they were down and have accepted winning and losing with grace and dignity. They’ve constantly held themselves to a higher standard knowing that young, future Elkers and Rams look up to them. They’ve become role models to many and should be proud of that. They’ve led by example - something not easy for a young person. I’ve seen the wonderment and amazement in the eyes of the kids that aspire to be them one day. They’ve done more for the future of those kids than they probably will ever know.
Some will get to further their athletic, cheering, and band careers at college. They’ve been prepared well by our village. For those that will not play again, the village has helped prepare them for what lies ahead as well.
Forty years ago I graduated high school and I can tell the seniors there will be many ups and downs as they go through life. Both can be overwhelming but seeing how they’ve carried themselves I’m sure they can adapt and accept the challenges that lie ahead.
If I had an opportunity to talk to each senior it would go something like this.
What was learned in the classroom and through competition is going to help you through life. You may not yet know how but it will. When you need help don’t be afraid to ask. When you’re asked for help provide it. The world awaits you and I’m sure you'll be able to handle anything thrown your way. Don’t be too rough on yourself if you fail. You can’t fail what you don’t try and you will become stronger for it. Enjoy each moment of joy and don’t be afraid of the unknown. Help the young. You were once them. Your hard work has paid off and you have a diploma to show for it. There’s more hard work to come and having gone through what you have is going to pay off if you let it. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions – it shows you are sincere. I can’t wait to see what you do to help make the world a better place. Be kind and do your best to make a difference. By doing so you’ll reap many rewards that I’m sure you’ll be happy to share.
To the Ridgway and Johnsonburg Class of 2020 athletes, cheerleaders, and band members - Naomi Aboussou, Madison Amacher, Alana Antonuccio, Jetta Barclay, Robert Briggs, Haylee Cherry, Emma Cobaugh, Lauren Croyle, Jack Cowan, Alley Cummings, Dan Dillinger, Lidia Duffield, Matt Dush, Gary Emerick, Hannah Emerson, Austin Erich, Christina Fullem, Laney Gilmore, Connor Grazioli, Austin Green, Garrett Gregori, Gino Gregori, Paul Gresco, Hayden Haupright, Tori Haynes, Alexandra Hodgdon, Kylie Hoffman, Chloe Horning, Samantha Jacobs, Maria Jones, Damon Kelley, Cole Kilhoffer, Valdemar Kranz, Emma Kemmer, Christian Krug, Jason Kucmeroski, Lauren Larner, Scott Lewis, Jovana Marzella, Sophia McManus, Kolton Mahalko, Mason Milliard, Jenna Morgan, Shya Morris, John Newcome, Andi Parana, Michaela Quiggle, Gabbi Rohr, Scott Sallack, Sara Schenkle, Samuel Seawright, Jaden Severance, Greg Simon, Josh Sorg, Delana Spong, Lindsay Steis, Adrianna Stout, Brooke Thomas, Kinzie Walters, Tyler Watts, Jake Wickett, Haydn Yeager, Drew Young, Zack Zameroski, and Clay Zilkofski – I thank you from the bottom of my heart!