After reporting on high school athletics for 30 years, I’m more convinced than ever that some of the most valuable lessons that are learned have little to do with wins and losses.
Friendships are created that can last a lifetime, and the importance of team-building and working together as one will prove to be far more beneficial for most during their upcoming years.
And if other rewarding life lessons can be incorporated into the high school experience, then that is an extra bonus for the many student athletes.
That’s why I want to highlight a very special ceremony that I got to attend Friday when Lockport hosted a veterans night to recognize those who have served in the various branches of our nation’s military.
When Lockport teacher Mike Zaworski came up with the idea for such an evening a few years back, it naturally was well-received. But this year’s edition even stunned the organizer, as a total of 98 veterans showed up to be honored.
I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to see the large crowd in Lockport’s gymnasium give a continuous standing ovation as all of the veterans were introduced.
And then just before the start of the Porters’ game against Sandburg, the veterans returned to the gym and a huge American flag was unfurled and held up by students who circled the court. The a cappella rendition of the national anthem that was performed by those in attendance truly was a fitting climax to the special evening.
It was great to see the young people paying their respects to all of the individuals who made a huge commitment to their country, that obviously deserves to be celebrated. It would be nice if other local schools tied in similar veterans ceremonies with athletic events.
With five individuals represented from both World War II and the Korean War, as well as those who served in Vietnam, the Middle East conflicts and in peacetime roles, it is so important for young people to realize the sacrifices that these brave individuals made so that we all may enjoy the many freedoms that come with being a citizen of this great nation.
Understandably, the special evening meant a great deal to those who were honored.
The last man recognized also was the oldest in attendance, 100-year-old Floy Pelletier, who along with his late wife, Helen, who was a teacher that finished her career at Lockport High School, were enthusiastic supporters of Porters athletics for so many years.
“This was very good,” said Pelletier, who served in the Air Force during World War II. “And the one gentleman (Zaworski) who’s organized this whole thing has done a terrific job.”
Joe Belman has spent most of his 94 years living in the community. He also served in World War II and was in the Air Force where he was a ball turret gunner on a B-17.
“This was a wonderful night being here because I never expected such an honor,” Belman said. “This is the biggest affair that I’ve been to so far and I’ve been to an awful lot of them.”
Another World War II veteran who was on hand was 93-year old Herb Tatroe. A longtime outstanding music teacher in the area, the 1943 LTHS alumni later returned to the school to assist Ernest Geneva with the Lockport band, with the highlight being the famous ‘The Music Man Marching Band’ that toured the country as part of the premiere for that 1962 film.
“I enjoyed this,” Tatroe said. “I asked Ernie if he’d like me to put in the style of marching that we had in the Marine Corps, and he said, yes. We worked very hard to go to nationals.”
Dick Burnett, who along with his wife Pat have been big supporters of the high school and athletics for nearly half a century, was happy to once again be involved in the event.
“It was very good and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Burnett, who was in the 82nd Airborne between 1956 and 1959. “They were all applauding and they could see what these guys went through and that’s why they have what they have today.”
Joe Czerkies, who was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam-era, played basketball for the Porters, as did his son Aaron, who also served in the military.
“This is really something,” Joe Czerkies said. “Mike has put this together for the third year and this was a huge gathering this year, and it looks like it is twice as big as last year.”
Andy McCormick, a longtime assistant to Art Cwudzinski with the Porters girls bowling program that is annually among the state’s best, was pleased to finally attend the event.
“It was great to see everyone, and especially the World War II and Korean War veterans,,” said McCormick, who served from 1970 to 1976. “This was my first one since we usually have had meets. So it was nice to be here tonight.”
And George Pohlmann, a veteran teacher and soccer coach at the school who has had a long career in the service, has enjoyed watching how this event has grown in numbers.
“It’s really an honor that Lockport does this,” Pohlmann said. “This was our third time for the veteran’s night and it’s always memorable and a great tribute to the veterans. This is a real tribute to Mike and his tenacity to get all of us out here.”