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Successful Sailor Salute

Jenna Beemer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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It was definitely more than just a football game.

Fans entering the Sailor Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 1, passed by news trucks from around the area, a fire truck with the bucket high in the sky to capture every play, and a red, white and blue MS in the center of the field.

The Thursday night lights at the game against Zeeland West highlighted more than just football; throughout the night, Shores and the surrounding community honored military personnel, veterans, policemen, firefighters, and EMS.

For the past several years, a tradition has been developed at Shores to honor hometown heroes at the beginning of every home football game. This year, the event was bigger than ever before, featuring a mass choir of more than a thousand members of the community.

Originally, football Coach Matt Koziak and athletic director Ryan Portenga had the vision to create the Sailor Salute, expanding the experience and energy during the night to bring attention to those who serve our country and community.

To ensure an emotional start to the event, they reached out to choir director Shawn Lawton to organize a large community choir and make sure the music was mastered. A couple of hours before the big performance, more than 1,300 singers all decked out in red, white, and blue, rehearsed “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Sailor Center gymnasium and in the East parking lot with the band.

Lawton, leading his largest choir to date during the Sailor Salute, said he was excited and relieved by the success of the singing prior to the game.

“[I was surprised by] how quickly they nailed everything,” Lawton said. “The logistics, like how we are going to get all in the gym, hand out T-shirts, get a buzz going on social media took a lot of thinking. It was a lofty goal. The singing was the easiest part.¨

Lawton does admit to some anxiety prior to this major event.

¨Many nights, I woke up at 12 and thought about getting all the music printed, worried that they would hear a note and not know what to sing because many of those in the mass choir do not have a background in choir,¨ Lawton said. ¨All my [choir] kids carried it really well.”

Lawton said he recognized the importance of this event extending past the impressive choir to the connections made during this event and to thanking those who deserve it most.

“First of all, for the veterans and military personnel, you can never thank them enough,” Lawton said. “Second, this event brought the community together. Third, it brought the choir and band together, which has never happened during marching season.”

Community members of all ages came out to support the service people by singing in the choir.  

A veteran of the Air Force, Dave Seeger and his wife Mary Seeger of Norton Shores came to sing in the mass choir on Thursday night’s game.

“My daughter teaches at Ross Park, and she sent me the link to the event,” Mary Seeger said. “We usually come anyway, and because he is a veteran of the Air Force, we wanted to sing in the choir.”

Veterans stood among alumni, students and parents making it true community gathering.

Maria Alvarado, a 2003 alumnae, brought her children who attend Mona Shores Middle School and elementary schools to sing in the choir.

“I came to support the Sailors because I have kids that go here,” Alvarado said. “It feels awesome that we have such a great community.”

A teacher at Campbell Schools, Tracey Fritz (1990 graduate) brought her whole family to support the Sailors.

“We wanted the opportunity to give back to the people who gave us so much,” Fritz said. “The whole community is involved.”

Community involvement also inspired Jennifer Best, a Norton Shores resident and mom to Shores students, to come to the Sailor Salute.  

“We came to support our veterans,” Best said. “Coming out with all the community and seeing the great turnout was exciting. This is how we should be doing life, together.”

The pre-game excitement of the band performing, mass choir singing, flyover of four jets, and about 300 motorcycles from the Freedom Riders circling the track was only the beginning of the night’s festivities.

The north end of the track featured emergency responder vehicles, an ambulance, a fire truck, police cars from Roosevelt Park, Norton Shores, and the state police were present as well as the Muskegon County Emergency Services Mobile Command Post, an Operations Center, and Army and Marine recruiters. These vehicles and recruiters were present throughout the evening.

To add to the vehicles present, a helicopter took off from the southwest corner of the stadium and flew by the fans to signify the start of the second half.

Lieutenant Casey Rosenburg of the Norton Shores Fire Department, captured the emotional impact of the event.

“I’d have to say that the people on the field and the motorcycles pulling in was really impressive,” said Rosenburg, a 2003 graduate of Shores. “The helicopter flying over was cool. The amount of support for police, EMS and veterans [stood out to me].”

Principal Jennifer Bustard said she was thrilled by the success of the Sailor Salute and hopes the event continues year after year.

“Communities take a Thursday night and take the opportunity to come together for more than just an athletic event, but a community gathering,” Bustard said.

The community involvement was not the only memorable part about Thursday’s game, which the Sailors unfortunately lost 32-28.

“What stood out to me was when both teams’ players, before walking out on to the field from the locker rooms, shaking the hands of police, veterans, and EMS,” Bustard said. “It showed the good character and sportsmanship of both teams.”

The players on the field brought the community together in a remarkable way. The Sailor Salute will be an event that will remembered in the weeks to come.

“I am absolutely in awe and admiration of our community supporting servicemen,” Bustard said. “Combining the choir and band will be something I will never forget. I am overwhelmed with emotions for everyone who came. Tonight helped us remember what is really important in our community.”


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