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Grateful disposition

Thanksgiving 2020 is a perfect time to find appreciation, perspective

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge's Sawyer Springer receives a hug from his mother, Juli, during the Homecoming festivities at Dodger Stadium.

I was experiencing a bout of pandemic fatigue during Fort Dodge’s Homecoming week in early October — wishing things would just get back to normal and frustrated by all of the relatively minor inconveniences we’d been experiencing for months on end — when a brief moment of clarity changed my perspective in a hurry. I went from feeling discouraged to grateful, and I haven’t looked back since.

Fort Dodge Senior High was honoring its Homecoming candidates and their parents as best it could, just like every other school in every other community during the fall season of 2020. There was no coronation ceremony, a limited parade, and the subdued celebration surrounding a football game that — because of COVID-19 — had lost most of its luster.

Sawyer Springer, the Dodgers’ senior co-captain, was being honored as the king. Affable and mature well beyond his years, Sawyer was a lock to win all along and wear the ceremonial crown. He was escorted to midfield by his mother, Juli. Yet a presence in their lives was conspicuously absent from the festivities.

Five months earlier, the Springer family lost their patriarch. Steve Springer, one of the more active, caring and selfless members of the Fort Dodge community, succumbed to a brief but overwhelming battle with cancer at the age of 59. Meaning all of Sawyer’s special senior moments — athletics, activities and the good stuff in between — were about to happen without his dad by his side.

That, my friends, is real loss.

I watched Sawyer and Juli stand together on the sidelines from my spot in the press box — approximately 20 feet away from where Steve used to sit, week after week, helping behind the scenes like he always did. I hurried outside, took a blurry picture of the two of them, apologized under my breath to Steve for not getting a better photo, and sat there in a daze the rest of the night, thinking about how adversity strikes, but life goes on, moments and memories keep happening, and you have to make the best of every situation — even if you don’t feel like it or it doesn’t feel right.

That’s what the Springers were doing. They had no choice.

I’m not writing this on Thanksgiving to get you to feel sorry for Sawyer or their family. They don’t want your pity. I do suggest, though, that you take some time to appreciate the very basic blessings of life during this holiday season. That simplicity affords you both appreciation and peace. And that you find a way to support or serve others who are truly struggling, rather than letting postponements or cancellations — any temporary setback that is inconvenient yet manageable in the grand scheme of things — take away the ability to give thanks.

In a day and age where our society finds outrage and indignation in almost everything — sports, politics, rules or a cornucopia of all three — I ask that you take a step back, a deep breath, and think about everything you have in this moment, rather than dwelling on what you don’t. If the Springer family — and so many others like them — can navigate through overwhelming tragedy and heartbreak, the least the rest of us can do is follow their lead and be a lot more grateful.

SPECIAL THANKS: Our 2020-21 Winter Sports Preview is included in Friday’s Messenger. I’m still not really sure how we pulled it off, given the special preseason rules and regulations of our 18 area schools due to the pandemic, but it will somehow look like a relatively normal publication once it’s in your hands.

I have to first acknowledge our sports staff. Chris Johnson, Dana Becker and Britt Kudla tirelessly logged odd hours from remote locations to help get the job done. A project like this never sees the light of day without such a collaborative effort. Their work continues to be second to none.

Messengerland coaches, athletic directors and programs also deserve a huge, socially-distanced, virtual handshake/fist bump/elbow bump (whatever we’re doing these days). Restrictions made it difficult for us to visit many of the schools, so a lot of people cooperated by submitting returning letterwinner photos to us via email or text. A number of sports editors and writers from across north-central Iowa helped us in a bind as well. We were very fortunate.

It takes communication and creativity to bring a preview edition together in times like these. We have no idea what the winter sports season will bring or what the schedule is going to look like in the days, weeks and months ahead, but thanks to so many of you, we’re at least able to start this year the way we always do: by giving the student-athletes from our communities the attention they deserve.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter at @ByEricPratt.

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