Northwest Iowa becomes a sea of Royal blue
Blue shirts and ribbons permeated northwest Iowa this past week, as area students and athletic teams remembered an MMCRU High School student who died after collapsing at the school in Marcus.
Senior Natalee Henke — a popular student and Royals cheerleader — passed way after being taken by ambulance to Cherokee Hospital on the morning of Monday, Sept. 10. She was 18 years old.
The loss left MMCRU students and staff reeling.
“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Natalee Henke, a senior at MMCRU High School,” the school posted on Facebook. “Please continue to keep her family and our entire MMCRU family in your thoughts and prayers as we go through this incredibly difficult time.”
Their pain rippled through the surrounding area.
The following Tuesday, fans and athletes wore purple at Harris-Lake Park High School, as the Wolves battled Gehlen Catholic in War Eagle Conference volleyball. On Thursday, Spirit Lake and North Union volleyball players wore blue ribbons and fans wore blue shirts during their match in Spirit Lake. Okoboji and Siouxland Conference rival Boyden-Hull did the same in Milford.
Okoboji junior athlete Camry Jones posted a picture on Twitter of the athletes from both teams wearing their ribbons.
"Win or lose we are a sports COMMUNITY!" Jones wrote. "Blue bows for you, Natalee."
It was a touching tribute, especially considering the Pioneers and Royals were set to battle on the gridiron in Milford to cap off homecoming week at Okoboji High School. The game had to be postponed to the following Monday as the MMCRU community attended Natalee's visitation Friday.
Before Monday's game, Okoboji and MMCRU cheerleaders met at midfield.
The Pioneers cheer squad presented the Royals cheerleaders with a bouquet of white and blue flowers. The squads exchanged hugs. Fans and athletes observed a moment of silence, then announcer Eric Thompson read a letter from the Henke family.
"The family of Natalee Henke would like to thank everyone for all their thoughts, prayers and kindness that we have received this past week," Thompson read. "(Natalee) was a very active person, participating in sports, leadership team, CYO, donating blood and volunteering in our community. Natalee strived to get good grades, being one of the top students in her class. Natalee passed away on Sept. 10 from natural causes. She ended up having a blood clot in her lungs. Natalee was able to continue to help people after she passed away by being an organ donor. Any further monetary donations will be put toward a memorial scholarship in her name. Natalee had just completed her CNA and wanted to become a nurse. The scholarship will go to an individual going into the medical field. We, as a family, appreciate all the support from the surrounding communities and school districts. We would also like everyone to take a moment out of your day to reflect on what you have as a family and as friends. Never take anything for granted. As Natalee posted on her Twitter, 'Life is precious. Cherish every moment and hold your loved ones close.'"
During the game, Okoboji fans passed a bucket for donations. According to the school's Twitter account, Pioneer fans raised $2,202 for the scholarship. Okoboji football players wore a pink "NH" on their helmets as a tribute.
Throughout the week, I couldn't help by be struck by the kindness and generosity of our area's athletes and fans. Far too often we let petty rivalries and perceived slights cloud the lens through which we view sports, but in moments of great tragedy, such as the loss of Natalee, I believe our true humanity is revealed.
Through gestures large and small, it seemed everyone chipped in to show their support. I've always considered myself lucky to have been born and raised in northwest Iowa, but never more than this past week.
Kudos to you all. My deepest condolences to the Henke family.
Rest in peace, Natalee.