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Commentary: What no one tells you on a college football recruiting visit

Katie Pinke1 / 3
Hunter Pinke gets hugs from his mom, Katie Pinke, and his sisters following a University of North Dakota football game. Special to Forum News Service2 / 3
Katie Pinke learned many lessons during her first season as a college football parent traveling to games, including to Missoula, Mont., to watch the University of North Dakota take on the University of Montana. Katie Pinke / Forum News Service3 / 3

Our son played in his first season on the field for the University of North Dakota football team. I learned about what no one tells on recruiting visits.

First, no one told me my intensity about the nickname and logo change debate at my alma mater would fade as a parent of an athlete. I now cheer for the Fighting Hawks. I grew up with the Fighting Sioux — was a Fighting Sioux — but it changed. Change is difficult, but in the big scheme of life, it's a nickname and a logo, and now our son is a Fighting Hawk. Regardless of nickname, it's an honor, a commitment and a responsibility to represent the University of North Dakota. Our son takes pride in his university and team. The nickname we cheer from the stands, I learned, is the not the priority any longer for me as his parent and supporter.

We are lifelong North Dakotans, but our son's teammates are mostly from out of state and not connected to the past nickname and logo debate and change. I purposefully decided to show full support to the university and team. I cheer for our son, his teammates, the coaches, the school's other teams, advisors, professors and staff. No one told me about how my loyalty would grow seeing how a large network supports students-athletes. It isn't about a nickname or a logo for me anymore. I see the college experience now through the lens of a parent.

With 15 of 22 starters injured, there was disappointment in the season after high expectations. Regardless of unmet preseason hopes, I am thankful for the opportunity and lessons our son experienced and we as parents benefitted from in stands.

Second, no one tells you on recruiting visits about the relationships you form with other parents and families. Seeing 22 seniors and their parents at the last game cemented this for me. We traveled to nine of 11 games. After weekends of travel, meals shared, tailgating and cheering in the stands, you create a connection and build friendships, not solely based on a game or record but on your kids, the degrees they are working on earning and the lives you share.

Win or lose, as parents and families of the team, we are together in the stands. No one can explain this on a recruiting visit. You see the pain in a parent's eyes or hear their gasps when their son gets hurt, and you feel it too. I learned it doesn't matter as much what position or order on the depth chart players are in. I care about the players and families as a part of a team and university.

Nathan and I helped coordinate three tailgating events prior to home games this fall. We started before 8 a.m. Other families helped us with food. My mom baked hundreds of cookies and bars. Nathan introduced parents to the tasty Wishek sausage and hot bologna from our hometown grocery store by grilling it for two games. We look forward to three more seasons of helping with tailgating and shared experiences as football parents.

Last, no one tells you on the recruiting visits about the support from the university, professors, academic and athletic departments, community, statewide fans and even readers of this column. Football is a game. How people show their support even when they aren't a parent or family member gives those who are great encouragement. If I named you all by name, I'd forget someone. But I won't forget your kindness this season. You showed up at games to support our team, visited my family and me in the stands, introduced yourself in locations we had never visited before, stopped by tailgating and more.

As a college football mom, I see sports through a different lens now, and I am thankful for it. It's more than a record, a nickname or even a loyalty to a team. It's about people.

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