When the final horn sounded in Silver Bay’s 15-0 home win over Cherry on Friday, Sept. 20, the team lined up and shook hands their opponents.
“Good game,” many said as they slapped hands with the Tiger players.
The scene is familiar to anyone who watches or has played high school or youth sports.
But after they finished with the Cherry players, each of the Mariners lined up again. This time outside a bus from Silver Bay’s Minnesota Veterans Home.
One by one, each player went through the bus to shake hands and say "thank you" to the veterans who watched them win.
The tradition was begun by Mariner assistant coach Ward Wallin and his wife, Colleen — both of whom worked at the Veterans Home at the time. Coach Wallin also coaches the Silver Bay baseball team and Colleen started bringing groups of residents to games about six years ago. Several players at the time volunteered at the Veterans Home and started walking over to say hello following the games.
When Coach Wallin started helping out with the football team in 2015, he also organized a bus to bring six or seven residents to each Silver Bay home football game.
Typically, pizza is delivered to the field for residents to enjoy during the game. At the beginning of the season, the group watches from outside the bus, but as the weather cools they move back inside, according to Coach Wallin.
“It just kind of evolved. All the kids after every game go up there and get to shake hands with veterans and thank them for their service,” Coach Wallin said.
Coach Wallin said sometimes the kids end up in “lively” conversations about the game and the way the Mariners’ season is going.
“They’re excited to go to the games. They get to know who the players are,” he said. “They know some of the kids by names just by watching and being involved in the community.”