A large majority of high school kids spend their summer living it up at the lake, others go to athletic camps. Parker Epema went to a military base for basic training with fellow Crookston High School senior Landon Staehnke.
Epema, a three-sport athlete in football, hockey and baseball, joined the National Guard and spent his summer at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Epema flew out of Fargo on May 28 and left Fort Leonard Wood on Aug. 9 as a basic training graduate.
"I have always thought about joining the military and with all the benefits of the National Guard I decided to join," Epema told the Times in an interview. "It was a once in a lifetime experience. They started yelling right when we got there and only let up a little by the end. I did meet a bunch of cool people from all over the state and made some friends. All the guns we got to shoot were pretty cool too."
As Epema returned home a from basic training his family threw a welcome back party.
"It was really nice to come home and see all my friends and family that I haven't seen in a couple months," he said. "I think going to basic made me more mature and made me respect people much more than I did before."
At 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, Epema demands respect as a defensive end and tight end on the gridiron, in his goalie pads on the ice and at the plate on the diamond. Coaches of this three-sport athlete have always spoken highly of his character, and through two games this football season he has been an impact player.
"Parker has entered this football season with a tremendous attitude," said Pirate head football coach Scott Butt. "His maturity and work ethic are something that we notice everyday. He is a young man that learned a lot about life over the summer and has carried it over to the football season. Watching Parker practice and play this season has been a lot of fun, he never takes a play off and is encouraging other teammates all the time. He has stepped up and become a true leader of this team. The Army was not easy so the stuff we do seams easy to him. Parker always seems to have a smile on his face and it is fun to watch him enjoy himself."
In his senior year, Epema has high hopes for the Pirates, who will host Park Rapids Friday in the home opener at Ed Widseth Field. The opening kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"Our team this year should be pretty good," he said. "We lost a lot of seniors on offense but we make up for it on defense. As long as we can make plays on offense and make tackles on defense we will be good this year. I think everyone's goal is to make it to state for the last time in the dome."
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