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Stephen-Argyle basketball holds appreciation night for military vets

Military veterans are congratulated by the players as they are introduced prior to Tuesday's boys basketball game between Warren-Alvarado-Oslo and Stephen-Argyle in Stephen. Submitted photo/Jill Adolphson.

STEPHEN, Minn.—Joe Tulibaski never had the chance to feel the rush of having his name announced as part of a team's starting lineup while he attended Argyle High School.

"I never played sports when I was in high school,'' Tulibaski said. "I was too small for basketball and football, just a little guy.''

On Tuesday, 52 years after he graduated from high school, Tulibaski had that opportunity—not as an athlete, but as a military veteran. He was one of 35 past and present local members of the military who were recognized at the Stephen-Argyle Military Appreciation Game.

Instead of the traditional introduction of starting lineups prior to the game between the Stephen-Argyle and Warren-Alvarado-Oslo boys basketball teams, the military personnel were announced. One by one, each veteran went to the middle of the court through a tunnel of Storm and Ponies ball players.

"That was just a great feeling,'' Tulibaski said, "these young men slapping you on the back, giving you high fives, slapping hands, thanking you for your service. It was really something.''

It was the second annual Military Appreciation Game. The event was initiated by Storm boys basketball coach Nevin Lubarski. He'd seen military appreciations at college games and wanted to do something similar. Lubarski said it was an opportunity to give his athletes a life experience beyond the sport itself.

"And we have people who we are proud of here for going on to the military,'' Lubarski said. "This was a way of recognizing our local heroes, to show that their service to our country was important.''

The veterans' experience ranged from Daniel Kuznia, who served in the army during World War II, to Anahi Martinez, a 2018 Stephen-Argyle graduate who just returned from basic training in the national guard. The army, navy, air force, marines and national guard—all of the branches of service had representatives.

Most of the veterans on hand were members of the American Legion posts in Stephen and Argyle. A few who attended were relatives of Storm players.

The night started with a spaghetti feed. Each veteran was given a red, white and blue t-shirt with the Storm logo on it. They had front row reserved seat sat the game and were served free food and drinks from the concession stand by Stephen-Argyle students.

"A few of them asked our kids if they could get a beer,'' Lubarski said. "They (servers) thought that was funny.''

But the highlight was the emotional pregame introductions.

"Everybody in the stands was standing and applauding them,'' Lubarski said. ""Almost all of the veterans had tears in their eyes or quivering lips as they went through the tunnel. You could see it meant something to them.''

It was recognition Tulibaski didn't receive when he returned from the War in Vietnam. Tulibaski served in Vietnam for 300 days before being wounded by enemy gunfire. He spent five months in a stateside hospital recuperating from injuries.

Tulibaski said he and his fellow soldiers returned to war protests, not parades.

"We didn't want to be in Vietnam,'' Tulibaski said. "We were drafted. We were just over there doing our job. A program like this was really touching. Now we get ovations. People appreciate what we did.

"You got goosebumps when they announced your name and what years you served. It was very emotional. I had quivers and I got teared up.''

As for the players, second-year Storm starter Isaac Durand said the team was glad to see the pregame spotlight shining on the veterans.

"It was better, seeing those guys announced. They don't get the recognition they deserve,'' the senior said. "Seeing the veterans and the smiles on their faces going through the line, it was heartwarming.

"You see how lucky we are. To have the freedoms we do, it's something we wouldn't have without those people who served our country.''