Isolation. Travel made difficult. A deadly, contagious disease. A race for a cure. Although these are daily realities of 2020, they are also part of the story of Balto, whose statue sits in the entrance to Huskie Stadium as a gift from the class of 2020.
The money for the statue came from the funds for the 2020 Grad Bash, which had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. “The Grad Bash Committee had been holding fundraisers since October of 2019 to raise money for Grad Bash 2020,” said Grad Bash Co-chair Rita McKenzie. “When it was canceled, we were faced with a dilemma of what to do with the money that had already been raised for Grad Bash.”
The PN Parent Compass and Grad Bash program considered dividing up the money in order for it to serve its original purpose of being a gift to the class of 2020, but instead, the statue is a gift to Northern from the class of 2020 that will serve as a memory of their class and this tumultuous year for a long time to come. “Since this money was intended to be used to celebrate the achievements of the students in the Class of 2020, we thought about purchasing an individual gift for each class member, but we only had enough funds for a $10 gift for each student,” said McKenzie. “Nancy Mein came up with the idea of doing something for the school on behalf of the Class of 2020….something more meaningful and lasting that would always be remembered.” In the end, they settled on a bronze statue of Balto and two white benches.
According to the American Kennel Club, Balto was a sled dog who helped deliver a lifesaving serum to a town in Alaska with an outbreak of diphtheria. The trip from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, usually took 25 days, but the team of sled dogs was able to complete the 674-mile-journey in under six days, saving 10,000 lives.
The dedication of the statue and benches happened prior to the first playoff game on October 30th. The stadium announcer read the presentation that French gave at the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony on August 11th. The statue and both benches feature a plaque with the following inscription: “A gift to Portage Northern High School from the Class of 2020…a year that no one will forget.”
However, many current students and alumni are unaware of what the statue signifies or even that there is a statue. “Not many people in the class of 2020 know about the statue,” said PN alumni and former Superfans leader Andre Walker. “If the statue is meant to be something that my class was to leave behind for the school to remember who the class of 2020 was, then it’s sad.” Even people present at the game where it was dedicated do not know much about the statue. “I didn’t even know it was there until we were leaving,” said junior Kyla Wightman, who was at the playoff game on October 30 as part of the marching band. “It wasn’t really publicly announced on social media. I feel like it could have a better reaction, I guess. I mean, most statues that are built have a purpose and I feel like it would’ve been important to share that with everyone, so we could all experience it together.”
Walker agrees that there could have been more information shared. “I don’t know whose decision it was to use the money for the statue but they should’ve done a better job explaining to us and making it something more meaningful to us,” he said. “The money was supposed to be used to create one last memory with our classmates but due to Covid-19 that didn’t happen, and because the way the statue was handled I don’t think it truly means what it aimed to be.” Despite the lack of information, Walker does think the statue was a good decision in general. “I think that statue was a great idea, and I believe a majority of the class of 2020 would’ve gone for the idea with the money that was raised,” he said.
As Huskie Stadium opens up to more spectators in 2021, more people will get to see the Balto statue and remember the Class of 2020 and their lasting impact on PN. “They were a great class and thankfully we have a gift to continually remind us of the journey we all have had in 2020,” said French.