The COVID-19 pandemic took away the final high school athletic experiences for this year’s senior class.

Among those missed memories was being able to gather and celebrate in person the athletic achievements of the Class of 2020 during the 43rd annual Park Rapids All Sports Banquet.

Instead of holding the banquet at the Area High School gym for the 43rd straight year, the annual event became a virtual celebration for the first time on Wednesday, May 16.

“We’re here to celebrate another year of success. Even though we cannot gather in the gym, we’re still excited to celebrate and recognize our Panther athletes,” said Jeremy Nordick, activities director at Park Rapids, during the pre-recorded program. “Congratulations to all and we will see you next year for the 44th annual Park Rapids Banquet and hopefully it’s back in the gym where it belongs.”

The highlight of the banquet was the naming of the 2020 Female Student-Athlete, Male Student-Athlete, Outstanding Female Athlete and Outstanding Male Athlete.

Rilee Michaelson was named the Female Student Athlete, Joe Stachowski was named the Male Student Athlete, Kamree Carlson was named the Outstanding Female Athlete and Marcus Benson was named the Outstanding Male Athlete. Those four combined to earn 23 all-conference honors and nine all-state honors while making nine state tournament appearances.

Michaelson was a four-year letterwinner in three sports: volleyball, basketball and softball. In volleyball, Michaelson earned Mid-State Conference honors three times and was an all-conference honorable mention player once. Michaelson helped the Panthers qualify for the state Class AA tournament for the first time in school history as a junior and was named the Mid-State’s MVP and earned all-state honorable mention honors as a senior. Michaelson holds the school record for kills in a season. In basketball, Michaelson earned all-conference honors three times, was the team MVP twice, was named the Mid-State’s MVP her senior year and concluded her career with more than 1,000 points. Michaelson was an all-conference player twice and an all-conference honorable mention player once in softball before having her senior season canceled. Michaelson also earned Section 8AA honors twice and was named to the Class AA Second Team as a junior while ending her career ranked first in school history in career home runs and wins in a season while ranking second in career wins as a pitcher.

Stachowski was a three-year letterwinner in football and wrestling and a two-year letterwinner in baseball. Stachowski earned all-district honors in football and all-conference honorable mention honors in wrestling this season.

The other candidates for the Female Student Athlete were Carlson, Paige Johnson, Jade Renneberg and Katelyn Weaver while Hunter Brandt, Kolby Brandt and Jeff Haas were the other candidates for the Male Student Athlete.

The criteria for the Student Athlete award were having a minimum GPA of 3.50 or being one of the top five qualifying students; being at least a two-sport athlete in grades 10-12 or a state participant in one sport sometime during grades 10-12; and having no confirmed rules violations during their senior year, which starts the last day of their junior year.

Carlson received the Outstanding Female Athlete award after concluding an outstanding high school career. Carlson was a six-year letterwinner in track and a five-year letterwinner in volleyball. Carlson earned Mid-State Conference honors in volleyball four times, receiving team MVP honors twice and being named the Mid-State Conference MVP as a junior. Carlson also helped the Panthers to their first state appearance as a junior and ended her career as the school’s all-time leader in kills and digs. In track, Carlson was an all-conference honorable mention athlete twice while earning three trips to state. Carlson earned all-state honors in the shot put as a junior and was looking to repeat that feat before this season was canceled.

Benson was another regular at state, competing in four state swimming meets. Benson was an all-conference swimmer three times and an all-conference honorable mention swimmer once. Benson earned all-state honors in the 200-yard medley relay and 100 backstroke as a sophomore and all-state honors in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke as a junior and senior. Benson was the Section 5A Swimmer of the Year as a senior and will graduate with school records in the 100 backstroke, 200 individual medley and 200 freestyle while ranking second in the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle. Benson also earned one letter in football, two letters in cross country and three letters in track.

The five Female Student Athlete candidates were also in the running for the Outstanding Female Athlete while Jens Anderson joined the others as candidates for the Outstanding Male Athlete.

For the Outstanding Athlete award, seniors had to be at least a two-sport athlete in grades 10-12 or a state participant in one sport sometime during grades 10-12; had no confirmed rules violations during their senior year, which starts the last day of their junior year; and must be making satisfactory progress towards graduation.

This year’s state participants were also recognized with Ellie Ulvin and Emma Vrieze qualifying in girls swimming and Benson and Cameron Runyan qualifying in boys swimming. Last spring, Chris Day, Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze, Jeremiah Engst, Seth Breitweser, Kolby Brandt, Kaleb Stearns and Lane Monaghan qualified for the state boys track and field meet while Julia Johnson, Carlson, Paige Johnson, Renneberg, Hannah Morgan, Kendra Scholz, Holly Johnson, Morgan Koppelman and Natalia Lopez qualified for the state girls track meet.

Carlson was recognized as Park Rapids’ Triple A (Academics, Arts and Athletics) representative while juniors Joseph Huber and Ulvin were recognized as this year’s “ExCEL Award” winners for Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership.

Receiving a $1,000 Park Rapids Memorial Scholarship were Benson, Kolby Brandt, Carlson, Johnson, Michaelson, Renneberg and Stachowski.

The Park Rapids Coaches Association put on the banquet. The program can be viewed by going to the school website (www.parkrapids.k12.mn.us) and clicking on the “2020 Celebrations” tab. A program from the banquet can also be printed out at that site.