KALISPELL — The last weekend of May is all about medals and trophies for Montana high school athletes, replete with stories of glory in the local newspaper.

There's something else though that's just as special. It will never grab a headline, but it will never be erased from the memory of this empty nester.

The end of the school year brings with it a lot of finality. For proud moms and dads of Montana senior athletes, it's like losing your youth all over again.

No more nervous excitement on game day or catching yourself speeding on the way to a meet. No more stinky socks deposited in the back seat. No more washing jerseys or hitting Subway with your teen by your side, his sweat-stained, suntanned face looking exhausted as he munches on a steak and cheese sub.

For a lot of us who will always be proud of our high school athletes, there was that unplanned moment that transcended the final score. A reward we never really anticipated and perhaps haven't pondered much since.

Something reminded me of that reward while covering a state meet in Kalispell Friday. I was taken back to those two special days when my son and daughter said goodbye to high school sports.

A feeling washed over me like the sun breaking through the clouds on a chilly May morning.

Parents, ask yourself this: How often do I ever really share a meaningful hug with my 18-year-old kid? How often does it happen when both of us are fighting back bittersweet tears?

Funerals? Maybe graduation if you're lucky enough to catch your son or daughter away from friends?   

Those final days watching my son and daughter in high school colors remain vivid in my mind. Not because of victories. Because Mitch and Brianna were never too big or proud or cool to hug mom and dad.

Nothing beats that kind of trophy.

Sometimes we're too preoccupied to recognize the poignant moments in life. Too busy with the cell phone or television. Too worried about work.

The years pass by pretty quickly after your kids are out of high school. College is over in a flash and the next thing you know you're planning for a wedding.

Looking back on the days when my kids played high school sports, I probably spent too much time worrying about wins and losses. When it was over, there was an unspoken sense of relief for Bill and Julie Speltz.

Then five years pass by and you think about what a treasure those years were. You think about the trips to Helena and Kalispell and Bozeman. How the mountains and rivers never seemed so beautiful. The sun so bright. Just something about those days.

What a joy it was watching our kids push the limits of what they thought they could do. How positively exciting it is now to watch them apply what they learned to life.

Thank you, Montana high school sports.

You've given this ol' sports writer a lifetime supply of special memories.

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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