Across the country, a hospital finds ways to give back to their communities.
Randy Perault started off owning his own practice, Premier Physical Therapy, with his wife, Pam, in Columbus back in the 1990s.
Through his practice, Perault built relationships with the local high schools. He also saw just how much time went into each student-athletes work – Time away from home, studying and family. So, he wanted to recognize their efforts and those that accomplished much for their school.
Now in 2023, his practice is a part of the Columbus Community Hospital, the only hospital in Nebraska that provides two annual $1,000 scholarships to high school athletes.
“They’re good students, good people,” Perault said. “They bring their commitment and personality to everything they do. School, community events, volunteering. To do all that was the reason why we wanted to recognize them for their efforts.”
The hospital provides numerous scholarships, but much like hospitals across the country, all of them are for medical-related scholars. The exception, however, is its Athlete of the Year award.
Perault said the award started as just a weekly shoutout from the local radio station, KKOT 93.5 The Hawk. In 1999, the station contacted him and asked if he wanted to sponsor them due to his involvement with the local high schools.
As a certified athletic trainer, Perault worked with Lakeview High School, Columbus High School and Scotus Central Catholic High School during games to tend athletes. During that time, Perault saw the students’ dedication to both school and their respective sports. Because of this, Perault and the station thought it’d be a great idea to recognize them for their efforts and achievements.
Through the sponsorship with the local radio station, students from the high schools had the opportunity to be named athlete of the week, earning recognition for their efforts as a student and an athlete. However, Perault said he wasn’t the one who determined who would win.
Since 2014, Kevin McNabb, a sports broadcaster of the station, has kept track of the schools for the station and decides the winner based on athletes’ performances. McNabb said the station also provides a 30-second spot every week to announce the winner, then emails Columbus Community Hospital, which posts the winner on its social media page.
“It’s a really nice idea,” McNabb said. “It recognizes a kid’s accomplishments. It’s good for the community to have something like that.”
Even when Perault sold his clinic to the Columbus Community Hospital in 2004, the award remained present. Perault said the hospital was aware of the award, loved his partnership with the radio station and was on board with continuing the weekly award.
But he also said he and the hospital wanted to do something more for the students. For a time, the award resulted in students getting a shoutout and a Premier Physical Therapy T-shirt. So, Perault and the hospital decided to go a step further with the award and included a scholarship.
“We wanted to add value to the award,” Perault said. “Very few of these students get full scholarships, so they appreciate money to offset expenses.”
The scholarship doesn’t go to the weekly winner, however. Instead, it goes to the athlete of the year at the end of each school year. The award is decided based on the Athlete of the Week winners. Though McNabb determines the weekly winners, he said Perault and the athletic trainers of each high school decide the yearly winners.
“I only pick the weekly winners,” McNabb said. “Randy [Perault], he’s in charge of picking the yearly winners. For that, all I do is a 60-second script since it’s one male and one female winner.”
Though the award didn’t start off separate between a male and female winner. Only one winner received the $1,000 scholarship, which, according to Perault, is provided by the Columbus Community Hospital.
The award did grow to include a male and female winner as part of the hospital’s ability to grant the money and its desire to support more than one athlete at a time. However, Perault said it’s not just the students that need opportunities like this, but also their families.
“Being a student-athlete in high school makes the normal class load more challenging,” Perault said. “But, parents also give up a lot of time to support their kids. So for them to receive money for college costs helps to make all the time and effort more worthwhile.”
Perault said there were limits when it came to the award. In the past, they would pick an athlete who would continue playing sports in college. But they had athletes who did so much in high school yet weren’t planning on competing in college that they felt rueful. Now, they’re rethinking the criteria.
But Perault said the award wouldn’t get far if it weren’t for the hospital.
“I’ve just appreciated the fact that the hospital has continued it and provided the scholarships,” Perault said. “They’re really supportive of everything we try to do here. This award really reflects what this hospital is about.”
The scholarship’s recognition goes both ways as well. Recipients, their families and the high schools thanked Columbus Community Hospital for its support.
Tim Kwapnioski, director of athletics and activities at Columbus High School, said he’s fortunate that there are people in Columbus who highlight the accomplishments of the students, both academic and athletic. That, along with helping them with scholarship money, is something that goes a long way.
“I can not say enough about the local hospital,” Kwapnioski said. “They are partners, contributors and supporters of Columbus high school and other high schools in so many ways. We are blessed to have them as a part of our community.”