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Central Lake bringing back Patriot Appreciation Game to honor active military, veterans, first responders

The Record-Eagle - 9/8/2022

Sep. 8—CENTRAL LAKEChase Hibbard made a promise to his players last season. And come Saturday, he's keeping it.

The Central Lake head coach, who is in his fourth year at the helm of the 8-player football program, was asked halfway through last season if it was possible to bring back the Trojans' Patriot Appreciation Game. The event, which has not been held since 2016, honors both veterans and active members of the United States military as well as first responders such as police officers, firefighters and emergency services personnel.

The 2021 season was in its back half when the idea was brought to Hibbard, so the logistics of trying to organize such an event and do it in the way it deserves would be just too much to try and rush. So Hibbard put an eye on 2022.

"I promised the boys this year that we'll do it," said Hibbard, who has family members and friends who have served in the military. "I've always enjoyed the military and their services and what they do for this country and the people in it. The same goes for the EMTs and first responders. They're a big part of this country."

Saturday will mark the fifth time the Central Lake football program, which is a co-op of Central Lake and Ellsworth high schools, will host the Patriot Appreciation Game at Herrick Football Field. Veterans, active service members and first responders will take the field before kickoff against Inland Lakes to be recognized in front of the home crowd and receive thanks from each player and coach.

Recognition on the field begins at 12:30 p.m. Kickoff for the varsity game follows at 1 o'clock.

"What a great way to incorporate appreciating them with the best game in the world — and that's football," Hibbard said. "It's a great way to honor them and bring them out to watch a fantastic game of football. We want to show them all our gratitude by putting on a good show for them."

Central Lake quarterback Kelan Pletcher said he feels extra responsibility going into Saturday's contest. The senior leader of the Trojans said both his grandfather and his great-grandfather served in the U.S. military.

"I feel like I owe it to them to play hard," Pletcher said.

Pletcher certainly played hard in Week Two. He threw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns in last week's loss to Gaylord St. Mary. He's hoping for a better result Saturday and is thrilled to be part of an event to honor so many great individuals.

"It's a pretty cool experience," Pletcher said. "With this being my last year, it's cool that we're doing this."

If the game Saturday against Inland Lakes is anything like last year, those in attendance are in for a treat. The two sides combined to score 152 points with the Bulldogs topping the Trojans by a final of 86-66.

The two squads have played each other 52 times and battled to a dead-even record of 25-25 with two ties. Both come in with 1-1 records as well. Central Lake knocked off Brethren 40-34 to open the season before the 48-36 loss to the Snowbirds last Wednesday. The Bulldogs blew out Onaway with a 52-0 victory in Week One and then fell to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian 51-18 last week.

Hibbard said choosing Inland Lakes was a deliberate move after the Bulldogs took the field last season waving an American flag.

"They really represented the country, and that made me think, 'Man, they're into it, too. Why don't we just pick Inland Lakes to do this?'" Hibbard said. "They'll appreciate it even more to be a part of this special game."

Hibbard admitted that it is just a coincidence that the game falls a day before the 21-year mark of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The head coach said that makes Saturday all the more special.

"It's going to hit home for even more people. They're going to appreciate it even more," he said.

The Patriot Appreciation Game is one of many such sporting events in northern Michigan, including Kingsley's Salute to Service Game and the annual Patriot Game between Traverse City West and Traverse City Central.

"I want to get this thing going again, and I want to keep it going," Hibbard said. "It's a great, great thing for our veterans, all of our military people and our first responders."

Hibbard believes the sport he loves matches up perfectly with the men and women that serve this country.

"Football is an American game. People love football," Hibbard said. "We can honor these people through this game. Football is the greatest game in the world, and our military is the most important thing in the world.

"They help protect us. They help save us. We want to pay them back with some football."


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