BY JEREMY HOECK
SIOUX FALLS – Mike Huether took the opportunity Wednesday to share a story familiar to most Yankton High School football fans: The plight of quarterback Reid Sawatzke.
It’s a story of success. Of setback. Of recovery. Of perseverance. And of another setback.
An ACL injury to his right knee kept Sawatzke – a football and basketball standout for the Bucks – out of action all of last year. He rehabilitated the knee enough to the point where he could return to the football field , where he took over the quarterback reins for the defending state champion Bucks.
Sawatzke, however, left last Friday night’s home game with Mitchell after a first-half injury that was later determined to be another ACL tear. It all but ends his high school athletic career.
That determination and drive to return to the field prompted Huether – a Yankton native – to share the story at Wednesday’s Presidents Bowl media luncheon in Sioux Falls.
“Like many athletes, he said, ‘I’m not going to give up, I’m going to keep training and rehabbing,’” Huether said told the assembled crowd. “He came back, almost full strength, to compete for the Yankton Bucks.
“He said, ‘I want to play football again,’ and he did.”
On the one hand, Sawatzke is far from the only athlete to suffer a season-ending injury, but his situation proved to Huether – as he relayed to the crowd – that athletics play such a key role in a person’s life. The message was that the journey is just as important as the battle.
“There’s a lot of truth to it,” Yankton head coach Arlin Likness said, after conducting interviews with Sioux Falls TV stations to preview Saturday’s game with Sioux Falls Washington.
“Like people say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
It is just a matter of realizing that, Huether said.
In Sawatzke’s case, the potential college recruit was bound for a solid career on the basketball court. And while the second injury doesn’t mean such an option is off the table, it means Sawatzke will have to turn his determination in another direction.
Likness said he had a conversation Tuesday with Sawatzke in which they talked about the “bigger plan.”
“And through sports and through all these injuries, hopefully he’ll find something he’ll love to do with his life,” Likness said. “That’s part of growing.”
Sawatzke’s situation comes one year after former Yankton football standout Levi Kabella suffered his third career knee injury – he spent the last half of the 2014 football season cheering on his teammates from the sidelines, even dressing for the 11AA championship game.
Kabella, as Likness pointed out, is now a pre-med student at South Dakota State, proving that Sawatzke too can focus on his future.
“Hopefully Reid will do the same thing,” Likness said. “Hopefully we’re here to help build some character and help them however we can.”
That, Huether said, is the true goal in high school athletics: Embracing the journey.
“That’s what sports is all about,” he said. “That’s the real story of what you folks do.
“We’ll probably focus more on the wins and losses on Saturday, but I know and you know why we do this game.”