By Al Malinowski EBS CONTRIBUTOR
Over the past many months, COVID has changed all of our lives. It seems every time our world begins to appear “normal” again, we are reminded of another way the pandemic has taken something that we treasure. In the absolute worst case, those losses include the people that we love.
For many of us, sports serve as an escape from the challenges in our daily lives. However not even athletics are immune to the uncertainty caused by the virus. Thankfully, professional and many college sports leagues are very carefully pursuing abbreviated seasons. Though artificial fan noise and cut-out spectators remain a little strange, at least the games are taking place.
More importantly, high school and elementary sports in Montana mostly began as scheduled this Fall. Over the course of the season, many programs have experienced cancellations due to positive COVID tests. No doubt, the teams who have worked hard to prepare for competitions have had to be frustrated to lose games as a result of the virus. Add to that the recent MHSA decision to postpone the start of winter sports by three weeks and fall sport participants have to be wondering if their seasons could be cut short.
This past week, the Lone Peak High School volleyball and football teams each experienced canceled competitions due to COVID. For the volleyball team, who has been cruising through the season without losing a match, I’m sure the break was certainly unwelcome. The football team, who has had a more challenging season, had to cancel their final home game as well.
Traditionally, the final home game of each team’s season is Senior Night. Both teams will lose this opportunity to recognize their senior participants as a result of the canceled games. In the case of the football team, it would’ve been an opportunity to celebrate their lone senior player.
While Big Horn lineman, Kole Maus, won’t follow tradition for his moment, one could easily argue that his moment came a couple weeks earlier in a game at Park City. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, Maus rarely goes unnoticed but it was a decision by his teammates to unleash the “Kole Special,” that revealed the respect that Maus’s peers have for him.
The more experienced Park City Panthers secured a solid lead against the Big Horns. Refusing to quit, on the Big Horns final drive of the night, quarterback Isaiah Holst launched the football to the end zone as time expired. The ball was tipped multiple times, before being caught by Pierce Farr for a touchdown. Even though the Big Horns trailed by double-digits, they huddled and anticipated a play call for a two-point conversion. But when the call came in, it wasn’t the one they expected, and they decided to change it to the “Kole Special.”
The “Kole Special” is a clever play that includes a unique formation in which Maus disguises himself as a lineman. This isn’t a difficult disguise given that Maus’s primary position is lineman, but in this formation he is also an eligible receiver. While the opposing team focuses on the players who have been running pass routes all game, Maus, “sneaks” his way into the end zone.
The Big Horns players insist that it was a unanimous decision in the huddle to change the play to the “Kole Special.” And while it may seem hard to accept, Maus found himself all alone in the center of the end zone and caught a perfectly thrown pass for the score. While the Big Horns still lost the game, you would not have known from their reaction to the final play and true to form, the biggest smile on the field belonged to Maus.
The play worked so well, that the very next week versus Absarokee, the Big Horns used it again, this time to score a touchdown. While the “Kole Special” may be renamed in future seasons, the play will never be used more appropriately to reward a well deserving young man than it was on a Friday night in Park City, MT.
Maus may not receive a traditional Senior Night experience on the field due to COVID cancellations, but the bonds formed through high school athletics were already on full display when his teammates honored him in their own way. COVID can never take that bond away.
Al Malinowski has lived in Big Sky for over 25 years. He has coached middle school and high school basketball at the Big Sky School District for 22 of those years. He believes participation in competitive athletics has been critical in establishing his core values.