The Zak Zone

Over the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to attend a plethora of Senior Nights for the sports of boys' and girls' soccer, boys' and girls' cross country, volleyball, cheerleading, band and football, and one thing stood out about the seniors who represent Punxsutawney via athletics: These kids have heart.

Not every Senior Night went as those who plan these things would have probably liked.

In fact, the boys' cross country team's 26-29 victory over DuBois and the volleyball team's sweep over the Lady Raiders of Brookville were the only Senior Nights that ended with Chucks' victories to honor the seniors.

Just because the night that the seniors were honored resulted in a loss, though, we can't lose sight of the fact that the reason we honored them was for their performance, effort and heart, whether they were winning or losing.

I watched both soccer squads battle to the end of close Senior Night losses and hold their heads high as they walked off the field.

I witnessed every runner on both cross country squads press as hard as he/she possibly could, not just to the finish line but at every point on the course, in an effort to beat rival DuBois.

And last Friday, my heart broke with the rest of the Punxsy faithful as Redbank Valley jumped out to a 42-0 first-half lead on the Chucks' rainy Senior Night.

What I saw after halftime, though, speaks volumes about the athletes — across all sports — that I've had the privilege of covering as my first group of seniors.

This group will always hold a special place to me, as when I started in June, I knew little to nothing about the majority of these athletes.

I've had the honor of following the last snippet of many of their high school careers, though, and in the football team's second-half performance, I saw a trend I've seen all season long.

The Chucks could have come out battered and defeated, hoping to simply make it to the end of the game, but they showed the hearts of champions by battling back and putting up 12 points in the second half.

The task may sound simple and small, but never rolling over and giving up is bred into the Punxsy athletes I've seen, and that is exactly why the parents, coaches and fans pay them honor on their Senior Nights.

We don't just say thanks for their efforts this season. That would be silly.

When my brother was a senior football player, I was a proud big brother, but knowing the hours of preparation he put in over the years, I respected his achievement of sticking with it and not giving up far more than his statistics and honors during his senior year.

Punxsutawney seniors, you have given us much to cheer for this year, from a District IX doubles' tennis championship to a pair of District IX golf titles, and playoffs are just beginning for soccer, cross country and volleyball with tennis states just around the corner, too.

But in my mind, and I hope in many others, your time and dedication to representing the town of Punxsutawney in such a positive manner are your greatest achievements, by far.

Although some will have Senior Nights in other sports — winter or spring — for others, this Senior Night was a sign of their final season.

For those in the latter category, I wish you the best as you go forward in your athletic and professional careers, and to those who still have games to play representing the Chucks, I am confident that you will continue to represent the town in a positive manner, and we thank you for doing so.