With a new five standing around the circle at tip-off, some have positioned Hillcrest in a rebuilding year. Center Sander Frustol spent a majority of last season on the bench injured. Zak Zwiers and Eric Konynenbelt didn't see a lot of varsity minutes with the Comets stellar senior class last season. However, Hillcrest showed commitment to Preston's defense-first scheme, and it opened the game up for them early.
With the momentum from the defensive side, Hillcrest smoothly transitioned their upbeat energy to their offense, where Hillcrest provides a tough high-low look with Olivia Foss and Anna Murray. Throughout the night, Foss would take the ball at the elbow and dart to the basket. Murray would trail, ready to pick up what Foss wasn't able to put away. The two combined for 24 of Hillcrest's 38 points.
With the smallest group the club has had to date, and facing the stiffest competition ever at the BISON BEST competition, Hillcrest's robotics club took home the first place trophy after the two day competition.
"You don't have to be taught to be afraid of the dark," Heidi Konynenbelt, a Hillcrest board member and the Christmas banquet speaker said as she gave context to Hillcrest's banquet theme Light of the World.
Hillcrest has reformed a lot of their time-tested practices over the past ten years. One specific enhancement is the number of staff working in the dormitory. The school has encountered various studies that show students need anywhere from 4 to 8 meaningful adult supporters in their life. In response, Hillcrest ramped up the number of dorm staff and the type of training the staff go through. There are now 14 adults who work in the dormitory. In chapel on Friday students heard the power a meaningful adult has on a growing student.
The first time we met she was coming off of a long yellow school bus. Her lightly tinted strawberry blonde hair fell gently on her small black backpack. Surrounding her were a virtual forest of tall blonde Norwegian classmates who were now crowding in a circle in the parking lot behind the Hillcrest castle. The huddle broke, and she slowly moved down the line of Hillcrest students, who were eagerly greeting their new Norwegian classmates. She introduced herself to each one, reaching out a hand of greeting with a smile plastered to her face. I immediately recognized her name.
Flames danced in the glass pebbles of the fireplace in Hillcrest Lutheran Academy's Student Union while Christmas music rang out over the speakers. The entire student body blew in from the frosty Hillcrest campus on Wednesday, stomping cold feet and breathing into cupped hands to warm themselves. The students swarmed around a photo area to have pictures taken with their friends, pictures that would be printed to be placed inside boxes that read "Operation Christmas Child" as students participated in packing boxes for children in need.
There is nature in China, but according to Tracy Ding, a Chinese student attending Hillcrest this year, few enjoy it. So when Principal Isaac gave his pitch for his hiking club, one of six clubs added to Hillcrest's list of five from last year, Ding jumped at the opportunity and has not been disappointed.
Mayor Ben Schierer drew smiles and laughter, giving students a sense of confidence as he brought a greeting from City Hall to Hillcrest students Monday. In his personable presentation he had the Norwegian students leaning forward, students from Africa thinking to their Christmas traditions, and a host of local students brimming with pride.
Minute by minute the sky lightens, revealing tall prairie grasses bowing under silver frost. Empty milkweed pods with beards of snow-white seeds huddle companionably next to the skeletons of black-eyed susans. Faces among the crowd of Hillcrest students are now recognizable in the yellow light of day. The musicians are not alone but joined by dozens of teenagers who rose in the dark to greet the day with worship. They join all creation to praise the Creator in this perfect setting to begin the Lord’s Day.
Students shuffled between rows of chairs to circled groups Wednesday morning at Hillcrest. The groups were a small sample of the Hillcrest community. A junior high student sat amidst a student from Norway, one of Asia, and a handful of friends from the United States. There were over 16 groups meeting, led by a student from the senior class who would usher in the purpose of their gathering.
He cut his first teeth on the reins of his dad’s horse, wedged snugly between him and and the saddle’s pommel. Wyatt was on a horse before he could walk.
This is Wyatt Gilbertson’s third year at Hillcrest where he is a freshman. He sits quietly across the table from me now, blue eyes down, camo cap pulled low on his forehead. As soon as we start talking about the Minnesota State Fair, where he competed two weekends of last month, his face lights up. He talks of qualifying for two separate riding classes with two different horses and having to choose. He decides to take Ace, a 12 year old quarter-horse gelding down to St. Paul to compete at the state level. He tells of countless hours spent training for three minutes in the ring. Wyatt shows me the pattern he needed to memorize for the course which involved a bridge, a gate, and navigating narrow paths between parallel poles laid out on the ground. The horse must not nick the wood with his hooves. He must begin on a certain foot, pivot on a certain foot, move in very specific ways. Points are deducted for the smallest mistake. And they have just 3 minutes to complete the course. Ace has been trained to respond to the slightest shift of Wyatt’s weight, the least pressure from his knees or heels. Horse and rider must be in absolute sync and this does not happen without a lot of hard work.
Wyatt’s riding teacher, whose tutelage he’s been under since first grade, insists that four phrases never be used in response to his instruction or correction:
Wyatt pulls out his phone and shows me the video of his best ride, pointing out the significance of every intricate move, like an artist describing his favorite painting. Wyatt’s face is flushed and he smiles and laughs easily as we talk. Wyatt recalls the first time he met Ace. Ace was a young horse--unruly and willful. Wyatt was just a little boy and had to carry a whip with him when he was near Ace because the horse had a propensity to lunge and kick or bite. An accident a couple years later left Ace blind in one eye and it changed his demeanor. Instead of becoming more difficult and fearful, he became more mellow. Wyatt and Ace’s relationship also changed. Ace learned to trust his human and to work with him. In competition, no one in the arena knows what is going on behind the scenes. No one is aware that, with just one eye, Ace only has 50% of his field of vision. Half of his world is in total darkness. The horse needs Wyatt to “tell him” where the obstacles lie and he must trust him completely. There is leadership that Wyatt must provide. There is respect between rider and beast. Together they execute a wordless dance. Wyatt directs, Ace responds. Their first trip to State, they take 8th place.
The following weekend, Wyatt brings his two Australian Shepherd dogs; Kodie, a 9 year-old veteran of 5 consecutive trips to State, and an 11 month old puppy named Kacie to the show ring. Kodie completes a flawless performance a fraction of a second behind a tough competitor and is awarded Reserve Champion. And then Kacie goes on to wow everyone in her novice classes, placing 5th out of 16 in Beginner Obedience and 8th out of 19 in Pre-Novice Rally--pretty impressive for a pup! Wyatt attributes their success to the strong bond they share. Kacie adores Wyatt and never takes her eyes off him while working or playing. He is looking forward to the years ahead they’ll have to work together.
Wyatt’s favorite Bible verse is Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus does for us what we could not do for ourselves when we did not deserve it. Likewise, in Wyatt’s work with animals he is able to do with/for them what they could never do without him. And the result is a beautiful picture of humility and trust, something we can all learn from.
Catch up on life at Hillcrest by digging into the the Current, Hillcrest's student newspaper.
The Lady Comets Soccer program is making huge strides this year, finding themselves in a place to finish with a .500 mark with only two games left. Their 6-6 record is currently marking them as the best Hillcrest team yet, and with two games left, the Comets are eyeing a strong run at playoffs.
Michael Lataweic was a Romanian orphan. Thirty years ago he sat in a cold crib in the middle of Romania wasting away. Untouched by human hands for nearly three years, Michael survived a culture of abortion, sustained life in a world where he wasn't wanted, and is now speaking out for life.
Michael is the son of a gypsy. His father pleaded for an abortion, but Micahel's mother refused. His dad walked out on his mom, and Michael was placed in a Romanian orphanage after his birth.
Micahel's ethnicity pushed his crib to the back of the orphanage. Children were held during feeding, as bottled were propped-up in his crib. The lack of human touch stunted Michael's brain development. At three years old, Michael was deemed obsolete by the orphanage.
A world away, Jennifer Lataweic sat on her couch flipping channels. The 1990 news series 20/20 started reporting on orphanages in Romania. Jennifer was captivated. She watched the entire program. Her heart broke, stirring a passion inside her. She resolved to start an organization to make an impact. The Eastern European Children's Fund is saving lives today, and started because someone flipping channels turned a news story human.
Jennifer's sister, Judy, brought food, diapers, clothes, and toys to Romanian orphanages in the following years. She found Michael wasting away in an iron crib. She tried to rehabilitate the children in the orphanage. Her work brought many small children from the brink of death to meet benchmarks for adoption.
Judy periodically moved crib-to-crib to awaken new life in the rows of neglected children. She walked the final row of cribs, small mouths agape with eyes staring into the distance. That's where she met Michael.
Judy bent over the iron crib to wrap her fingers around Michael's lifeless body. She was the only person to hold Michael in three years.
Judy worked with the orphanage to rescue Michael, realizing his stunted development pushed him closer to an asylum. Asylums in Romania are places for children with special needs who are left to die after their third birthday. Judy took action.
Judy traveled home for Christmas. Lights blinked on the Christmas tree as Judy and Jennifer sorted through pictures from Judy's trip. Jennifer stopped to hold Michael's picture, unaware of his tory and his sentence to death in an asylum. Jennifer determined that Christmas that Michael was her son. She was going to adopt him and save his life.
A long battle ensued, one that Jennifer walked eight times. The Lataweics have twelve children, eight adopted from situations similar to Michael's. The cold crib grew to a distant memory as Michael started a new life in Minnesota. Treatments and continual love opened doors for Michael. Violin lessons provided an expressive opportunity. After the lessons Michael would trade Vivaldi for folded hands, praying outside a nearby abortion clinic to stand for children who can't stand for themselves.
Michael's consistent protest directed a resolve to oppose what happens behind the walls of abortion clinics. Hours standing for live caused Michael to question why he was saved from the Romanian orphanage. Sensing God calling him to something bigger than protesting, Michael started counseling families considering abortion. He has been used to save twelve babies in his five years of sidewalk counseling.
Michael now travels to abortion clinics regularly. His mission is peaceful protest in speaking for life in communities where abortion numbers rival kindergarten enrollment. Michael's story shows that even the most unwanted people in the remotest areas can do amazing things if they're given the chance.
With 2:07 left in the first, after a 5 yard 4th down conversion by Thomas Zwiers, Hillcrest set in for a 1st down play on their own 44 yard line. When the ball passed from Zak Zwiers to Thomas Zwiers the offensive line met Laporte with a different sense of urgency. As Thomas faked a run, turning to Sam Ihrke for a smooth handoff, a hole opened on the left side. Ihrke sprinted toward the hole. A quick step toward the middle set the Laporte defenders back a step as Ihrke continued to bounce to the outside. He sprinted 44 yards for Hillcrest's first score of the year.
It was a busy day in the net for Walker-Hakensack-Akeley (Walker) when the Comets came to town Thursday Afternoon. The Comets boarded the bus for the two hour trip shortly after lunch for their 3:30pm tip-off. Where some teams might have tight muscles and have a hard time getting going, Coach Rod Jensen had his team running from the bus to launch 46 shots on the Walker goal before the Comets boarded again with their eighth victory this season, the fifth shutout for first-time keeper Bill Bui.
Someone knocked on my door. I wiped my tears away, working to sound happy as I said “come in.” It was Tina Hellum, and I didn’t realize how much I needed a hug until I was given one. I started bawling. Tina asked what was wrong. Somehow, through the tears, I told her. She hugged me and told me it was going to be ok. We prayed. Our time together lasted about an hour and I started to see that God is my refuge, and he’s using my friends to show me.
Hurricane Irma hit my house last week. A tree crushed part of my home and our dock washed away. My parents sound stressed and tired, and I feel terrible because I’m not home to help with cleanup.
I feel helpless and not in control. God knows I struggle with control, and I believe He is teaching me a lesson in this moment. After I spoke to my parents about the Hurricane last week, I went up to my room crying, feeling like God was giving me too much in teaching me this lesson. I hoped and prayed that no one would notice I went to my room crying.
After Tina knocked on my door, gave me a hug, and started talking to me, I was able to speak through my sniffles. She asked if we could pray, and that prayer was one of the most beautiful prayers I have been a part of. In our prayer time I realized that God sees my pain, and He hates it. He sees the hurt, and He feels it. I believe He will use the hurt and pain and make good and beauty come from it.
At school this week I had a hard time focusing. The lessons I learned through my prayer time with Tina didn’t completely resolve my stress. In class I began thinking how the stress of fixing and rebuilding our home must weigh on my father, who already works hard to enable me to attend Hillcrest. My mother and brother are bearing additional stress without me home to help. I somehow felt responsible for the stress on my family. This bothered me throughout the day. Finally, I broke down in tears. I left class to talk with someone. I ended up talking with the school nurse.
Mrs. Venberg, the school nurse, helped me realize that the stress wasn’t my fault. She reminded me that God has me here for a reason. I realized that if my parents need me at home they will tell me. God has me here for some reason, and I believe this is only a small part of what he is teaching me here.
Mrs. Venberg and Mrs. Heikes prayed with me after I talked with Mrs. Venberg in her office. During the prayer I felt a calming sensation. I felt at peace, like a weight was lifted off. I believe Jesus is comforting me as I finally gave him all of my pain and all of my worry. I feel content and grateful.
I am realizing how great God is at Hillcrest. He is loving and kind. He teaches us lessons through the biggest and smallest things. I have sensed God close to me, wanting to hold me and through sorrow and pain. God is my refuge in the storm.
There were near tears shed at the 10 minute mark when Maria Jennings found a crease in Crookston's defense, slipping through with a few taps of the ball, dribbling to meet the Crookston goalie. Her shot in the lower righthand corner of the net sent a swell of cheers and screams from the Comet box. Jennings ran, hands covering her mouth, to midfield as she worked to compose herself and reset for the ensuing possession. The special moment was captured with hugs at midfield as Jennings found the strike from the defensive position, scoring a rare goal from the back line that kept Senior Paige Schultz safe from Crookston defenders for most of the day.
The Lady Comets entered Tuesdays game following a rough week on the road. Being shutout in Bemidji and East Grand Forks, the Comets stepped onto the field with a heart to reset their season, looking to fight their way back to .500 in a three game homestand starting Tuesday against Melrose.