After a year off due to the pandemic last year, hundreds of student-athletes came together for the OK Conference leadership summit at Hope College on Thursday morning.
"It's fantastic to have these kids get together really to talk about what educational athletics means to them," OK Conference Commissioner Dave Feenstra said. "How we can be better sportsmen, how we can be leaders in our school and community."
The fourth-annual leadership summit featured several different speakers, including Hope football coach Peter Stuursma and MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl.
"With all the division in our country right now," Uyl said, "I've always believed that the one thing that can bring different communities together is sports and today is just a celebration of that."
After a year with so much uncertainty, the student-athletes couldn't be more thrilled to be back together.
"It just feels so good to be back and even though we are wearing masks, there's still smiles underneath there," smiled Hudsonville junior, Marissa Dewitte, who runs cross country and track. "It's just so awesome to be back here with everybody."
Forest Hills Eastern senior Sophie Parker participates in volleyball and track & field and is excited to have a fairly normal senior year.
"It feels so good; I'm really excited," Parked said. "I was really stressed out for a long time and upset because it would be my junior and senior years that would be cut off. I'm just so happy to be back."
With lessons on leadership, doing things the right way, cultural diversity and much more, the student-athletes will have a lot to digest.
"They'll have some challenges going back from the speakers today about what they can do to carry this forward in their school and their community," Feenstra said about the three-hour summit.
Not only is it about helping them in their high school classrooms and sports, it's also lessons they can take with them throughout their lives.
"I think 20 years from now, I'll look back and I'll be very grateful for this opportunity," added Hopkins senior Logan Klinge. "As a person, it'll really help me grow and it'll help me to help others grow around me."
It's exactly what the OK Conference wants to help these student-athletes with moving forward.
"These skills will carry them into college and well beyond, into their adult life," Feenstra said. "That's exactly what it's about. We want them to speak fondly about what their educational athletics experience has been at their school and in the community."