Newswatch 12's top five plays of the year Submitted: 06/25/2017

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NORTHWOODS - The 2016-17 high school athletic year brought us no shortage of incredible plays.

From touchdowns, to three point shots, to goals, there were plenty of impressive moments from so many impressive Northwoods athletes.

Of everything we saw, here are the top five plays of the year.

Story By: Mark Spillane

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ANTIGO - Most of us would never even consider driving 100 miles per hour on a motorcycle. Especially while trying to turn through the corners of a dirt race track with a dozen other riders doing the same thing. But on Saturday in Antigo, Flat Track Dirt Racing took center stage.

"They always say, you're always nuts," said racer Steve Kasten

But some racers say they're not nuts. They say they're crazy.

"Yeah we're crazy, but we're crazy because we like it," said racer Bob Kluender.

Either way, flat track motorcycle and ATV racing is one of the most intense sports you'll find.

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MINOCQUA - Every high school athletic program strives to win as much as possible. That's not always easy for small Northwoods districts.

When you think of the standard over the past year, one word needs to come to mind… Thunderbirds. Lakeland Union racked up six Great Northern Conference titles, three state championships, and produced dozens of All-Conference selections.

"It never gets old," said senior Kav FitzPatrick.

Winning usually doesn't. For Lakeland, this past school year included plenty of it.

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WISCONSIN - The WIAA held its annual Advisory Council meeting Thursday in Stevens Point. The group made many changes for high school sports. 

One of those changes was deciding to implement a basketball shot clock. It will go into effect for the 2019-2020 season.

The shot clock will be for varsity games only and will be for 35 seconds. It will be for both girls and boys basketball. Another change is letting the coaches go a little farther up and down the sideline than before. They can now go 28 feet, as opposed to 14 in the past.

For a full list of all the changes, follow the link below.

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NORTH CAROLINA - The New Balance outdoor national track meet happens every year around this time. It takes place in North Carolina, so it typically doesn't mean too much to us here in the Northwoods, until this year.

Lakeland Union sent a few of its runners to the meet. The 4x800 relay team of Darius Diver, Jack Garcia, Kieran Mullen and Kav FitzPatrick ran their second fastest time of the year. Kav FitzPatrick ran in the steeplechase event which isn't even offered by the WIAA.

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MERRILL - Meeting an Olympian typically stays only a dream. But for swimmers in Merrill, that dream became a reality this weekend.

"To be in Sydney was the real reward for me and to win a medal was the icing on the cake," said Kowal, a silver medalist in the 200m breaststroke.

She is a part of the BREAKOUT! swim clinic.

"That I get to learn more stuff about swimming," said Sydney Spuerl who participated in the clinic.

The clinic is taught by former Olympians or national team members all around the country.

"She told you what you did wrong because she was looking at everybody," said Chelsea Gebauer, another participant.

But she didn't focus on the "wrong" things. She shows them that there isn't much of a difference between the kids and where she started.

"A lot of kids often see us on TV competing and they think 'oh my gosh, they must've been these great swimmers from the get-go'. And being to tell them, 'oh no. We started out just like you, maybe even worse'," said Kowal.

Kristy teaches third grade in the town where she grew up in, Redding, Pennsylvania. It's pretty evident during the clinic that she's great with kids.

"Just being around kids, it's always been something that I've wanted to do and that I was passionate about," said Kowal. 

She told the kids her personal story about how she missed the Olympics the first two times by just fractions of a second. Those hard times in her career made it easier for the group to relate to her.

"Don't ever give up on your dreams, no matter how many times you fall short on them," said Kowal.

After the clinic, Kristy had a spaghetti dinner with the group where they could ask her questions and get to know her outside of the pool.

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ANTIGO - Summer camp usually means tie-dying t-shirts, canoeing, and playing tag, but not this week. Antigo graduate and former NHL player Joe Piskula came back to town this week for his annual hockey camp. The rink is filled with ice for just this one week each summer.

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LINCOLN COUNTY - Imagine having 1300 pounds charging directly at you. There are actually people that find that enjoyable. They're bull fighters and two of them were in town this weekend at the Merrill rodeo.

"The day you quit respecting and being fearless of the bulls, is the day you're going to get taken out," said Justin Wolfe, a bull fighter from Louisiana. 

Wolfe and his partner, Luke Moore, were fighting bulls this weekend at the Merrill Rodeo. Their role is different than your typical bull rider.

"Provide that cowboy that's been riding that bull the opportunity to get up safely and to the fence," said Moore.

To the average person, you might think they're crazy. But it's simply just their job.

"It's the best job ever," said Moore.

A common misconception is that the bulls are mad and angry. But that's not the case.

"It's like a dog. Either a dog's bred to fight or bite you. A bull's bred to buck," said Wolfe.

But the bulls are still wild animals, which is part of the reason the bull fighters are there.

"Eight out of 10 times, a bull will spin to the right but then, it'll jump out and spin to the left and dump them right on the ground," said Wolfe.

The fighters do it as a profession, but they've also formed a rodeo family over the years.

"You're almost like a bunch of traveling gypsies. You just show up and run into people you haven't seen in a long time," said Wolfe.

And just like that, they're on their way to the next rodeo stop to stand in front of charging bulls.

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STEVENS POINT - The summer Olympics won't happen again until 2020, but that doesn't mean some local Olympians aren't still competing. UW-Stevens Point held a state-wide Special Olympics competition this weekend. One of those teams was actually from Eagle River. I was there to meet the group and hear all about their experience.

The Northern Access Special Olympics team showed other athletes what they've been working on in the Northwoods.

Tom Maney won a gold medal in his sprinting event.

"Did you have fun today?" "I had fun today, it was a great race." "It was a good race, wasn't it." "Good guys, my crew, my team," said Katherine and Tom Maney.

His sister, Katherine Maney is one of the Northern Access coaches.

"You could probably say I'm the loudest one in the stands," said Katherine.

And she does it for all the right reasons.

"We're here to watch people set aside their disabilities and show us their abilities," said Katherine.

She started volunteering and coaching to help her brother, but also to help a much bigger cause.

"We live in a beautiful, remote area but there's limited availability for individuals with special needs and opportunities for them," said Katherine.

Now that there is that outlet for the athletes, it's changed their lives.

"It just makes me so happy and ecstatic that I can be a part of something like that," said Austin Kluever from Eagle River.

That happiness could be felt around the whole event.

"To be here surrounded by people who just love endlessly, it's humbling," said Katherine.

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TOMAHAWK - When you go to the Inshalla Country Club, the owners and staff might know you by name.

"They're people that are important to us," said Outgoing Inshalla Owner John Hein.

That approach began in 1964 when John Hein's parents opened Inshalla for the first time. It's been the family business ever since.

"I've spent most of my life working here," said Hein.

Like most things, that time is going end. This fall, the Hein family will step away from ownership as others step in.

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IRONWOOD, MI - What happens when you mix high school Northwoods basketball players with high school northern Michigan basketball players? You get the annual Border Bash in Ironwood, Michigan.

Tomahawk boys basketball player, Justin Jarvensivu thought his season was over after four years. But with the 4th annual Border Bash, he was given one more chance to play high school basketball.

"As a senior, you know your opportunities are limited so I'm just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I can to play," said Jarvensivu.

And that opportunity felt a little unnatural since the players were now on the same team as some of their Northwoods rivals.

"Playing against them is fun but playing with them is even more fun, and just getting to be on the same team is so much fun," said Northland Pines' Lexi Smith.

The Northwoods rivalries were pushed aside for the night. But that didn't mean they still weren't playing hard against their U.P. neighbors.

"We want to have fun, but at the end of the game, we want to be winning for sure," said Jarvensivu.

Lexi Smith won the girls MVP, which came as a surprise to her.

"I didn't expect it. It was just so much fun playing out here today with these girls and so much talent," said Smith.

Smith, Jarvensivu and Rhinelander's Kaley Kostrova will all be playing at the collegiate level. The Border Bash gave them an opportunity to get some more practice before going to the next level.

"It's definitely a different experience because you get to play with more advanced girls than playing with some underclassmen. You get to play with the next level of girls and get ready for college sports," said Kostrova.

All three players are looking forward to college, but being a high school player again wasn't so bad.

"It was fun putting on the Pines jersey one last time and it was a good win. 95 points, I'd say that's a good win," said Smith.

Wisconsin 95, Michigan 70
Michigan 139, Wisconsin 125

Other notable Northwoods players:
Lilith Schuman and Sydney Ziebert - Lakeland Union
Osy Ekwueme - Medford
Tarrin St. Germain - Mercer

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