December 09, 2023

Football season generated unity and pride

I just want to publicly thank the members of the 2023 Creston football team and the coaching staff for providing such a positive experience for the community this fall.

We needed that. Heck, I needed that.

As a freelance writer hooking on to this team as something fun to cover in the part-time retirement gig, it was a nice distraction from some health-related stress in the lives of a couple of boyhood friends. That happens when you reach your mid-60s.

I remember driving home from the Perry game talking on the phone to one of my friends, now living in Las Vegas. He was telling me about his diagnosis of an aggressive form of prostrate cancer, and that he was awaiting a scan to tell him if it had spread.

The week of the semifinal game in the UNI-Dome, I got the encouraging news that it had not spread yet, and he was awaiting surgery.

Another guy from my wedding party, now living in Rochester, Minnesota, became ill the weekend of the UNI-Dome game. He was coughing and thought he had pneumonia. But, soon he was rushed to ICU at Mayo Clinic because a faulty heart valve was leaking blood into his lungs. Last week he had open heart surgery to repair that valve and he’s in recovery.

His condition was at its worst on the day of Creston’s semifinal game, so I was a little distracted that day trying to keep up on his news and still get photos on a special day for Creston athletics.

Then, three days after she accompanied me on the trip to the UNI-Dome and sat in that massive sea of red in the east bleachers, Deb came down with Covid for the second time in three years. (We seem to always get it around Thanksgiving. That happened in 2020.) She’s been pretty sick, but improving each day since the worst of it last week. So far, I’m in the clear this time.

Last week we lost a friend of the Panther athletic family in Rick Hanson, who would have enjoyed following this Panther team had he been in better health.

The point is, many Creston residents have also faced their own challenges, but we were all brought together by this successful, entertaining football team. Panther Field was filled with overflow crowds for the home playoff games, and the semifinal crowd was as big as anyone’s despite the long distance from Cedar Falls.

“I think the whole town of Creston is here,” Jake Brend of WOI channel 5 said to me as we stood side-by-side on the sideline working during the game.

We needed to be united like this. For once we weren’t divided into camps arguing about politics. We were all on the same team. We were all “Creston.”

It was fun to hear positive reactions to Creston football by those I know around the state. Former players, including our two sons, got hooked on watching the live streams of games and asking me how far I thought they could go this year. These players captured the imagination of Creston natives literally across the globe, as we heard of soldiers stationed abroad watching and listening to the games.

The experience took me back to the fall of 1985. I had been hired a year earlier as assistant editor of the News Advertiser, but during that football season the sports position became open and management asked me to consider it, knowing that was my background from the Atlantic paper and my college years.

We had our first child in the spring of 1985 so I was apprehensive about the demands of the sports world and its crazy hours and weekends, but I jumped in. That was coach Bergstrom’s first playoff team, which nearly pulled off the upset of state champion Harlan in the second round of the playoffs.

That Harlan game was played on the Saturday of state cross country, so retired sports editor Max Sandeman, then in his 60s, went to Ames to cover the cross country for me as I went to Harlan.

This year, things had come full circle as I was in my 60s helping Cheyenne Roche of our staff cover this incredible football team, and help cover Lenox in the playoffs when she had a schedule conflict.

The Panthers didn’t quite make it to championship weekend in the Dome, but I hope they hold their heads high about what they accomplished in this incredible, record-breaking 11-1 season.

You brought pride and a tremendous sense of unity into this community. Walking through the crowd of red-clad fans in the UNI-Dome concourse that Saturday afternoon, there was a sense we were all in this together.

Thanks to a special group of young men who had dealt with their own setbacks through the years. Their “12th Man” mentality pushed them to do great things together. It was a fun ride.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

Larry Peterson


Former senior feature writer at Creston News Advertiser and columnist. Previous positions include sports editor for many years and assistant editor. Also a middle school basketball coach in Creston.