by Joe Bollig
LACYGNE — The annual fish fry at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish here would have caused Norman Rockwell to break out his brushes.
That March 2 was a clear, mild, almost spring evening. Members of the Knights of Columbus, Council No. 15026, were tending seven furiously boiling cookers in a little wooden garage across the parking lot from the brick church (dedicated in 1982).
Meanwhile, a few ladies and a gaggle of teen volunteers in yellow shirts bustled about in the social hall, located in the church basement. The teens mixed tea and made lemonade, laid out dinnerware, and carefully cut and deployed a regiment of sliced pie.
This whole evening was for them, because the Knights were donating the profits to the teens’ basketball team.
The yellow team shirt bore the initials of their school — Prairie Valley High School of Linn County — and the school logo: a buffalo skull. These teens were not, however, on the teams that filled the gym during the regular season.
On the wall was a big, green poster with the words “Good Luck,” the mixed-gender team members’ names, and the words “Special Olympics.”
On the back of the teens’ shirts was the slogan: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
These were the Level Four teens with developmental disabilities from several surrounding communities. They attend Prairie Valley High as part of a regional learning cooperative.
The fish fry was being held to raise funds so they could attend the Special Olympics Kansas State Basketball and Cheerleading Tournament from March 15-17 in Hays.
Before the crowd of diners showed up, two of the team members, Melissa Johnson and Jessica Lewis, offered to do the team cheer:
“Excited for a basket/We’re moving down the floor/We are the mighty Buffaloes/And now we’re gonna score! Yah!”
The score — as well as the win-loss record — are rather unimportant. Team members just like to play, explained Eric Reese, 17.
“It’s really a lot of fun,” he said. “I was a good rebounder at Leavenworth; I was on fire at rebounds. Once, I made a bounce shot in.”
None of the players is Catholic, but that was rather unimportant as well. Typical small-town spirit is alive here, and the many interlocking ties easily cross denominational lines.
“I’ve seen pastors from three other churches here tonight,” said Knight Fred Obermeier later in the evening. A lot of their congregants were there, too.
The team connected with the Knights thanks to Laree Christiansen, a paraprofessional at Prairie View and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes. She brings the students to the church to clean it as part of a work-study program, said Cheryl Kratzberg, team coach, as well as a Level Four teacher and member of St. John Parish in Greeley.
While on such a trip, Christiansen visited with a Knight about the team’s need to raise funds for the tournament.
“They have a good attitude and they like to play,” said Kratzberg.
“We have a couple of tall guys on our team who are rebounders, and we’re in it for the fun. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose.”
The Knights gave the team $188 and decided to donate the proceeds from their next fish fry. It was a good evening. In the first hour, they raised $450. By evening’s end, the Knights took in $1,231.68. That 68 cents was very important, said Dean Horst, the council’s Grand Knight.
“One of the players insisted on paying for his own meal,” he said. “I think the 68 cents was all he had.”
“Our hope is to create opportunities of a lifetime for them,” said Chris Kleidosty, USD 362 superintendent, a Knight and member of Our Lady of Lourdes. “And it’s also about providing teaming activities, where the kids learn to get along with other kids and compete, and to be good sports — life skills.”
“It’s providing something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” he continued. “The Special Olympic games are really important for them, where those kids are in the limelight.”