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Hurons should be proud of hard work

More than two months ago, Jesse Fenstermaker had one of his worst days as a coach.

Amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Fenstermaker stood before his Rogers City football team and delivered some bad news: the Hurons wouldn’t be playing football this fall.

“It was one of the worst days I’ve had as a coach, looking them in the eye and telling them,” Fenstermaker said in August. “They did everything they were asked and followed all the guidelines. I was more optimistic (we would play), but I did explain to them that it could get shut down at any minute.”

Thankfully for the Hurons, and teams around the state, the Michigan High School Athletic Association and state officials eventually opened avenues for a fall season to commence. But after a six-game regular season, Fenstermaker found himself in front of his team two weeks ago, delivering more bad news.

Due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Upper Peninsula’s Dickinson County last month, the Hurons opted not to travel for their scheduled Division 8 pre-district game against Iron Mountain on Oct. 30.

Local health officials left it up to the two teams to decide whether or not to play, but Rogers City made its choice with the safety of players, coaches and fans in mind.

Since Iron Mountain was cleared to play by local health officials, the game was considered still on and Rogers City essentially handed the Mountaineers a victory. The MHSAA has been consistent on its policy on this all season, even if it obviously puts some teams in a no-win situation.

This season has obviously been a challenging one for the MHSAA and schools all around the state as they try to juggle schedules and public safety during a pandemic. Even this week teams, including reigning Division 7 state champion Pewamo-Westphalia, are still forfeiting their seasons due to positive COVID diagnoses and quarantine.

But any way you slice it, this is just a sour ending to the Hurons’ season. You could argue the situation all day, but in the end, it’s a hard pill to swallow for a team that’s followed all the rules and protocols.

Because of the pandemic, every team got a playoff spot this season, but the Hurons–who made the postseason for the second time in three years–never got a chance to play. Iron Mountain, which will host Bark River-Harris tonight in a district final tonight, will be playing just its third live game after a series of forfeits left it with a 4-2 regular season record.

To say this is Fenstermaker’s toughest year on the job might be an understatement.

“It definitely has been very emotional for my seniors and my underclassmen. (After meeting with school officials), we brought the kids into a separate room and told them,” Fenstermaker said. “We already had an inkling of what might happen, but we wanted to be on the level with them. The school, for the safety of the kids (and others involved), didn’t feel comfortable sending athletes to a COVID hotspot.”

The 2020 record book will show that Rogers City finished with a 2-5 record, but numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“It was an up-and-down season, but the goal every year is to be as competitive as possible. Winning is just a bonus,” Fenstermaker said. “Our guys did not give up at all. There was no quit in them.”

The numbers don’t show the camaraderie and togetherness the Hurons had as seniors stepped up to show younger players the varsity ropes. They don’t show the pride that Fenstermaker felt coaching this group of seniors, a group he said he’s known since the players were five years old.

The numbers also don’t show just how competitive Rogers City was in several of its games. Sure, there were tough losses to Harbor Beach and Oscoda during the season, but in four other games, the Hurons gave themselves a chance to win.

Those numbers show 24-18 and 18-12 victories over Alcona, but what they don’t say is that the Hurons won both of those contests on the last play of the game. In the season opener, Isaac Hein hooked up with Matt Newhouse for a 21-yard touchdown as time expired. Two weeks later, Hein found pay dirt from five yards out on 4th-and-5 in overtime to lead the Hurons to another win.

There was also a 21-20 loss to St. Ignace where the Hurons rallied back from an early blow and stayed in contention. There was also a 20-14 loss to Manton, where the Hurons led after three quarters and again kept it close.

“Our record wasn’t great, but it doesn’t show what kind of team we were,” Fenstermaker said.

It’s been a tough season for players coaches and fans around the state, but a sour ending shouldn’t take away from the hard work the Hurons put in this season.

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