While in-person spring firearm safety classes were put on hold last year, the Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club has picked up where it left off to guide the next generation of hunters.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources states more than 21,000 students every year in Minnesota earn their firearms safety certification and since 1955, more than 1.3 million have done so. Though required for hunting purposes, Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club member/firearm safety instructor Jason Prondzinski finds the firearm safety class important for youth to take to understand how a firearm works and learn general procedures, even if they aren’t an active hunter.
Never knowing what the future may bring, he believes it’s a good tool for youth to have to be prepared for any situations that may arise, especially given the amount of accidents that have occurred. In 2019, the DNR reported 12 accidental shootings, one less than the previous year.
Locally, firearm safety classes have taken place every Saturday since April 10. This year Prondzinski, who is in his first year as lead instructor after helping John Makie and Larry Walker with the courses for about 11 years, said the DNR requires 12 hours of classroom time and a field day with the firearm safety class. Along with Makie and Walker, Tim Otte also helps instruct the class. Between both Makie and Walker, Prondzinski said they bring about 70 years of experience to firearm safety classes. The Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club offers 16 hours of classroom time to allow more time to go over certain items.
With the maximum capacity of the Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club in mind, the class size was limited to 15 to allow proper spacing between youth. Typically averaging about 20 students, Prondzinski said this year’s classes have had a waiting list due to increased interest after organizers were unable to hold classes last spring, per DNR guidelines.
As a result of COVID-19, the DNR modified firearms safety certification requirements on an interim basis to allow more students to participate. Students of all ages are allowed to take their classroom training online. The DNR states students age 14 and older may also complete a virtual field day instead of the traditional in-person field day by signing up for and completing the online hunter safety course. Students ages 12 and 13 who want to hunt this fall but are unable to complete their in-person field day are encouraged to use the apprentice hunter validation.
Despite online opportunities, Prondzinski said he prefers in-person classes because he can bring in props to show/let students handle what is being discussed. Unique to this year’s class, Prondzinski says, is the higher percentage of girls than boys, something he has never witnessed before.
Though located in the Kenyon area, Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club President Larry Alderks said members generally range from the areas of Kenyon, Nerstrand, Dennison and Faribault. Just recently, he said he also been in contact with individuals from St. Paul looking to participate in local trap events. With membership around 180, Alderks said the club continues to increase at a rapid rate.
While the Kenyon Sportsmen’s Club, at the crossroads of 10th Ave. and 450th St. north of Kenyon, is open to the public during certain hours of the day, club members have access to the grounds six days a week during shooting times. In agreement with local residents who live near the club, no shooting is allowed on Sundays out of respect to neighbors. Alderks said they also have two work days a year for general maintenance and upkeep, something he finds important for everyone to participate in.
”The support we’ve been getting from members to get work done is outstanding,” Alderks said. “We just want to continue that and provide some volunteer opportunities/projects if people are interested in helping with maintenance or tinkering with something. It’s a great place to come and spend a little bit of time.”
Along with work days, members participate in community service projects like picking up the ditch along Hwy. 56 and supporting activities like Rose Fest and local organizations. In recognition of the club’s 45th anniversary, Alderks said they have an event planned to invite the public to see what the club has to offer, slated for June 26. The club plans to add a bow range in addition to the existing pistol range, trap range and three rifle ranges. The high school trap league and club trap league also use the club’s range. Alderks said a lot of money and effort is put into the backstops for the ranges, and even more is in store for this year.
Alderks first joined the club after receiving an invite from another individual. Though he also finds it a nice place to shoot, Alderks says the reason he stays is due to the members.
”The people are absolutely fantastic, great people to be with,” Alderks added.
Prondzinski, too, enjoys visiting with the variety of people the club brings together and being able to see people he normally doesn’t see on a daily basis.
”I enjoy the camaraderie,” Prondzinski said. “It’s nice to talk to other people and see different people and talk guns. The club is always open to more members.”
Since unable to hold a formal concert last year, Kenyon-Wanamingo High School senior Caroline Doehling says the Music Department’s spring performance even more important than usual.
Overcoming numerous obstacles and spending a majority of the school year separated from classmates while in hybrid/distance learning models, students and staff in the Kenyon-Wanamingo Music Department are ecstatic to finally show off the piece they have prepared for next month’s scheduled performances.
From jazz, middle school and high school band and choir, a variety of musical opportunities are available for the community to attend. The Knight Vibez jazz group will perform May 2, Knight Vibez/Chamber Choir May 17, high school choir and band on May 12 and middle school band and choir will perform May 13.
Band director Claire Larson said the selections for band are very uplifting and signify that hope and healing is on the way.
“We are looking up and going forward, not back,” added Larson.
The middle school concert, a “Musical Potluck,” will feature a variety of music, everything from the “Wizard of Oz,” to current pop and country hits and even polka music. Choir director Stephanie Schumacher indicates it will be an unforgettable evening of entertainment.
Though constrained by masked instruments, masked students and switching between in-person, hybrid and distance learning, Larson said she is proud of what they were able to accomplish together.
Schumacher says the K-W High School choir concert, “CommUNITY,” has also been the theme throughout the year, as they’ve explored the idea of fostering community in both choir and school despite pandemic-imposed limitations. Originally hoping to perform live in November, Schumacher said the increase in COIVD-19 cases at the time caused the district to move into distance learning just days before. The choir department will be sharing music prepared for that concert in May as well.
Performers rehearsed mostly in the auditorium —6 feet apart — though mask wearing has provided some challenges, Schumacher said the biggest obstacle is not being able to hear anyone but one’s self. Despite the challenges, Schumacher said singers have taken on those challenges and powered through the year to continue making beautiful music.
“To say I am proud of our students this year is an understatement,” said Schumacher. “They have overcome so much to keep the music going!”
Schumacher expressed gratitude to her student teacher, Jacob Barsness, for all he’s done to enhance the choir program and students’ learning so far. She said he’s been a blessing to both her and the students. Sharing gratitude for 2021 seniors and the student leadership team, Schumacher said this year would not have been nearly as successful without the strong leadership of choir officers, section leaders and the many singers who step up and help behind the scenes.
This was sophomore Sophia Culuris’ first year in chorale. Having to learn in an online format didn’t measure up to what she though it should be, but over time she found ways to show leadership and strengthen her abilities as a musician that she might not have had in a larger group of upperclassmen.
“Finally being able to come back and sing as a whole group reminded me that music takes on such a beautiful form when you are not the only voice in the room,” said Culuris.
Believing that concerts and performances are huge drivers within an ensemble, Culuris is excited for the choir to finally be able to show what they have prepared, even through the changes in learning models and close the end of a year or semester of preparation.
During the performance, Culuris hopes the audience realizes how dedicated and resilient high school musicians and directors have had to be.
“COVID-19 hit our music program hard with spacing, masks, smaller ensemble sizes and other limitations, but yet we are still here and we are still thriving,” said Culuris. “Our music directors have continually helped us prove to ourselves and to them that we are not truly limited by our restrictions but nearly facing another chance at growth.”
Choir student William Van Epps, too, is excited to perform live and show all the hard work students put in to get the pieces ready to perform.
“… I hope the audience gets a great time [out of this performance] because it has been forever since the last performance, and I hope they enjoy themselves.”
For many students, overcoming obstacles is becoming a recurrent theme as things return to life as it was before the pandemic.
Making the most of their virtual season on Thursday, families and friends of the Kenyon-Wanamingo Speech Team gathered to celebrate and showcase member accomplishments and the challenges they have overcome.
Sophia Culuris placed first in Original Oratory in the sectional competition April 17 and competed at the state meet on Saturday. Olson also took sixth in Serious Prose and Rechtzigel received fourth place in Great Speeches at the April 17 competition. Culuris is also the first member of the K-W team to compete at the state level since Evelyn Humphrey won the Serious Prose division in 2018. Class A schools competed in a virtual format, similar to the rest of the season.
Prior to the state competition, Culuris said she was excited to compete and honored to hold a record as the youngest student in terms of grade level to make it to state.
“I’m super proud of the team, super proud of myself for the online season. It was super hard, meets were a lot bigger this year but we handled it pretty well, which was great,” Culuris said.
On Friday, a pep rally was held for the K-W Speech Team at the end of the school day. Similar to the format of the wrestling team pep rally, the Speech Team was recognized for their achievements, with the K-W Band drum line leading the team into the new commons area. Culuris also received special recognition for earning a place in the state competition, along with Ashley Rechtzigel for placing in nine of the 10 tournaments the team competed in this season.
Culuris competed in the three preliminary rounds at state, finishing third in the first round. In the second round, she had a fourth-place finish. Two of the people she competed against made the finals. The third round was not any easier as she placed fifth, with three people in this group advancing to the final eight. She also competed against the eventual champion in the third round.
At the subsection competition April 10 Culuris placed first in Original Oratory, Rechtzigel placed first in Great Speeches, Elliot Olson placed second in Serious Prose, Isabella Chmelik placed fourth in Poetry, Jordan Blowers placed sixth in Serious Prose and Aspen Donkers placed first alternate in Dramatic Interpretation.
Along with allowing team members Blowers, Donkers, Olson, Rechtzigel and Culuris to perform their speeches to those in attendance, coaches Heidi Hanson and Rebecca Kunesh also presented awards.
Karla Bauer, a team volunteer, was recognized for her assistance to team members and serving as a judge during competitions this past season. Kevin and Mary Gail Anderson were gifted with a card and bouquet of flowers after being recognized being the team’s No. 1 fans.
Chmelik received the “Newcomer Award for 2021,” for recognition seen by those associated with the program as a sign of her fearlessness and approaching her speech with confidence.
“She was not afraid to put herself out there. She jumped into poetry, which is no small task,” Kunesh said during the showcase. “Being a first-year speech participant, speech is hard enough, but to leap right into one of the most competitive categories that there is, that is a feat in and of itself. She stayed true to herself as a speaker and had a quality that was very refreshing and recognized by the judges.”
Donkers received “The Little Engine That Did Award” for her effort in switching categories from humorous to dramatic.
“Whether or not virtual reality helped Addison overcome her fears of performing in front of an audience, her speech made the audience see through the lens of an innocent child caught up in difficult family dynamics,” Hanson said during the showcase.
Blowers was awarded “The Perfect Face and Pancake Award” by coaches for her “wonderful” facial expressions and eye movements. Her speech also demonstrated strong characterization of her character Jill, creating a stressful environment with blocking in a virtual setting. Navigating the stickiness of challenges, coaches indicate she continually improved her speech throughout the season.
The “Persuasive Relevance Award” was given to Culuris for her timely speech and representing the important roles parents, teachers, schools and communities have in ensuring appropriate communication and the responsibility people have to better the world.
“Her message is timely, relevant, hopeful,” Hanson said. “She managed to effectively lead the team in verbal tongue twisting warmups, so it’s fitting to acknowledge that ‘sophisticated Sophia speaks skillfully successfully sending her to state speech.’”
Culuris added she had a relevant topic and felt it needed awareness.
“I’m happy to be able to take it to the state stage to give it awareness to a larger audience,” Culuris said of her speech about racism and the brick walls that have built up around the topic. “I have been working on the speech since June. I actually updated [last] Thursday afternoon, so everything is fresh and recent. It’s a lot of research time to make sure everything stays accurate.”
Olson received a bird call award for answering the call this year as a Serious Prose speaker.
“He has found a home in this category and made quite an impact,” Kunesh said. “His presentation demonstrates diverse talent and his script was one of the most challenging, internalizing emotional struggles. In our virtual season he had great success.”
Rechtzigel was awarded the “Hero with No Cape Award” by coaches for having a “terrific” season.
“Her speech was steady and consistent and she was consistently placing,” Hanson said. “Poignant and relevant, metaphor to audience, it was not only about MIT grads being heroes in our current times, so too has Ashley, tackling a subject matter and demonstrating like courage.”
Donkers also received a “Butterfly Award” for the promise coaches said she shows for the next few years of speech.