EVELETH — With their season wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eveleth-Gilbert softball team got together one final time this season on Monday for an impromptu senior night put on by head coach Paula Madden.
With players, parents, fans and coaches watching from the comfort of their vehicles, Madden addressed the crowd over a radio frequency that could be heard by those near Eveleth’s IGA Fields.
The idea for the ceremony came from a parent that wanted to get the softball team involved with the #BeTheLightMN campaign. The campaign saw area schools turn the lights on at their various fields as a way to honor seniors missing out on their final season.
As the IGA Fields don’t have a lighting system of their own, one parent suggested they use the headlights from their vehicles. From there, Madden borrowed a radio system from her sister-in-law, a pastor, that used the system to deliver Easter services recently.
Madden could now deliver her senior night address to those listening in near IGA Fields, all while the field was lit up in honor of the team’s seniors.
With the ruling to cancel the season coming late last week, Madden says putting on the short, 20-minute program was one way to recognize her most dedicated athletes.
“With no season, it was kind of a final way to honor the kids that put so much time in to the program,” Madden said Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview.”
Golden Bears from grades 6-12 showed up along with parents, fans and coaches. Seeing the strong turnout told Madden that it was the right call to honor her girls.
“We have worked really hard as a team to build such a positive culture around our program. We tell them from the first day that it takes every single person in our program to make it what it is. We’re all together in that. We need everybody so seeing everyone who came out was really special.”
The Golden Bears five seniors — Holland Markasich, Payton Dosan, Emma Westby, Carly George and Avery Dolinsek — won’t get to take the field one last time together for a game. Monday night’s ceremony was the best Madden could offer them, but she said they deserved so much more.
“This is a special group and they deserve all of the recognition,” Madden said at Monday’s ceremony. “I’m sorry that this is what your recognition has to be, listening to me talk over the radio. You all deserve so much more with the work and dedication you put in. It was unmatched.”
Typically held near the end of the season before playoffs, the seniors on this year’s team don’t get one final chance like players before them did or players after them will. A talented group that was only getting better, Madden said this year’s squad had the talent to go all the way.
“I wish I was standing here at the end of May talking about this tremendous season we had and how we were going into the playoffs looking to go to Mankato,” Madden said emotionally. “Because there’s not a doubt in my mind that that’s where this team was going.”
Two of the seniors — Payton Dosan and Carly George — spoke Tuesday about the cancellation of their last season, as well as their reactions to Senior Night.
“I knew it was something I really wanted to be a part of,” Dosan said of Senior Night. “We all wanted to have a season so bad. We wanted to be a part of something special even though we’re not going to be playing this year. She even had our jerseys hung up on the fence. It was a nice way for us seniors to be recognized.”
“I just thought it was great that people planned this and took the time out of their day to think about us and what we’re missing,” George said. “A lot of the underclassmen made posters and helped out with it. A lot of what was done for us there was a surprise to us so I’m very grateful we got to be a part of it.”
When the season was initially put on hold for a couple weeks, the girls kept positive, but eventually the prospect of not having a season became reality.
“I didn’t want to think of the negatives or how bad it could get in the beginning,” Dosan said. “People were saying we weren’t going to have a season, but I didn’t want to think about that so we took it day by day.”
When the news eventually came, Dosan said it was a tough pill to swallow.
“I was just devastated. We had this idea that even if it was canceled, we could maybe play the spring season in the summer. When we were told that wasn’t possible, it was just heartbreaking. It was the worst possible news.”
George says the entire team bought in to Madden’s words about how strong of a team they would’ve been this year.
“We had a lot of plans for this season,” George said. “For it to be gone was disappointing. The entire time Madden was coaching us, we’d been getting better every year and building on something. To have it gone was hard on all of us.
“This group of senior girls has always been competitive. This year we had some big goals and we really felt like this was our year.”
When things got tough, Dosan said she could always turn to her teammates, especially her fellow seniors to pick her back up.
“No matter what situation I got put in, I know I had the support of my teammates,” Dosan said. “Knowing how hard we worked to get to where we were was the most comforting thing. That’s how I knew we could do it. We put in so much work that we couldn’t disappoint each other.”
George says she’s going to miss just about everything when it comes to softball season, including the memories that didn’t get to be made this year.
“I’m going to miss it all,” George said. “Things like the bus rides and meeting in the middle before a game. We always had each other’s backs. ... And I’m going to miss the memories that never had the chance to be made this season.”
Madden says other coaches interested in putting on a similar ceremony for their athletes can reach out to her via email at email@example.com.
Ultimately, the amount of time and effort put in by this year’s seniors is something that won’t ever be forgotten.
“They deserved some kind of recognition,” Madden said. “Their blood, sweat and tears are literally on this field. The girls wanted one last chance to get out on the field and we did what we could for them. We wish we could do more.”