Dear Editor,

Thank you to the Hillsboro Banner and Traill County from Maryland.

We would like to thank Banner publishers Cole Short, Alyssa Short, Jack Short and Cory Erickson as well as all of the Traill County residents for looking after Kayla Morton while she worked for The Banner and lived in North Dakota. 

We can never repay our gratitude for the opportunity, hospitality and kindness for hiring and welcoming a girl from Maryland, fresh out of college from East Carolina University, to be the sports editor with The Banner. 

As a family, seeing our Kayla take a position so far away from where we are was a little scary. After all, there was a global pandemic under way. 

But, after landing in Fargo late at night on a cold March night, we felt just a little bit better.

Before Kayla officially moved out to begin her position we flew out to search for an apartment, but were met by Cole and Cory at the airport. 

They brought a huge pepperoni pizza because they figured we were hungry – and we were from the long flights. From then on, we knew this was not going to be as scary as we might have thought. 

A couple weeks later we were all set for the move. Driving Kayla out to North Dakota, following her U-Pack cube, we arrived the day in early March that Gov. Burgum announced the state was closing down.

This made things difficult as now; Kayla was going to be isolated in a new place with no friends or things to do.

Then, there was the ban on spring sports. So, she is far from home, at a job that she cannot do the way we envisioned. She literally was a stranger in strange land.

The crew at The Banner took her under her wing. They gave her the opportunity to be creative in a very different time. 

They sent her out to do an interview with Sam Preston. 

How do you interview someone during these new times? I remember her telling me she was shocked she was allowed to text him and just ask to drive over to his house. 

She asked me “Is that even legal?” But still, she told me how she and Cory took camera equipment and lights to his driveway to get shots of him playing basketball and swinging a golf club. 

This was a very important step as it started her path to her career, and more importantly embracing the decision to work for The Banner.

Sam sometimes helped Kayla with setting up interviews, always got back to her and went out of his way to help her. He gave Kayla a glimpse into the character of the people of Traill County. She talked to us about him often.

Kayla would often tell us about the people she would interview.

Whether it was Mason Richter and his “always positive and smiling” personality on and off the field no matter the result, or Shawn Klabo who tried to get Kayla’s attention during a basketball game and got in trouble or was “overjoyed” to get a cross-country cutout in the newspaper.

Then, there was Barrett Willison whom Kayla believes she broke the journalism rules for by cheering for him at the state wrestling tournament.

But she said it was worth it, because without his professional wrestling moves, she would’ve had no clue how to report on wrestling.

Maybe Cole, you should not know that story.

Then there was Gannon Limke who was the first athlete to call her “Ma’am.” It made Kayla speechless.

Let me tell you, that is a “HARD” thing to do. 

Reading the paper and hearing the stories gave us a little sense that things were going to be OK. 

We started tuning into to watch the basketball and wrestling. 

We were cheering on the night the Lady Burros won their first and only game of the 2020 season. We were rooting hard as if it was a school we went to and lived in Traill County.

We saw the wrestling matches and the night Limke went to hustle for the ball out of the court and went out the door into the snow! And, we knew exactly who he was!

During that Lady Burros win, I remember Kayla texting me. She said something like ‘Did you see that girl make that 3-pointer? She’s an eighth- grader! It’s her first varsity game!”

Little did we know that that Megan Ensign would be the difference in the game and remain on the varsity team for the rest of the season.

She even had to talk to Kayla in the post-game interview and was terrified. She smiled when Kayla told her that “she was more nervous to talk to her than Megan was to talk to Kayla,” and it went fine.

Kayla also talked to us a good amount about a cross-country runner and team manager, Hannah Luithle

 I’m pretty sure Kayla kind of broke the journalism cheering rule again at the state cross-country meet when she, and everyone else, were cheering for Hannah to get a best time so her parents would buy her a puppy.

When she did get her dog, Hobey, she said Hannah tried to explain the meaning but Kayla told her “oh it’s after the Hobey Baker Award” in hockey and Hannah was shocked Kayla knew what that was. They were buds after that.

Finally, Kayla enjoyed covering pitcher Noella Kritzberger’s record-setting senior season.

Like Sam, Noella went out of her way to help out Kayla, even coming to the office before practices or games to give insight about the team (like Cory didn’t say enough) or an interview. Noella was so thankful for Kayla throughout the season, and vice versa; her thank you note is pinned to Kayla’s North Carolina fridge.

Then there are the countless interviews with the coaches. Whether it was Coach Olsen and his never-ending line of shorts he would wear in all types of weather. They would text fantasy football tidbits or talk NFL, of course about his favorite football team.  Kayla says that it is the Miami Dolphins, but we think she may be wrong about that.  He also always asked Kayla for the Old Bay in her purse...but that’s a story for another time.

Then, there was Wendy Garrett-Mehus, the MayPort-CG cross-country/track coach. 

Kayla always said she better have some idea what she wanted to talk to her about, because as soon as she reached out to her each week, she got an immediate reply.

She loved working with that coach, who said she was always happy to see her and would take the time to talk with her at every event. Kayla was a runner in high school, so there were many questions. 

Additionally, there were the many times when Kayla was not really feeling her best.  

Coaches, parents and players would read her expressions or Facebook posts, if they were “friends,” and would ask if she was OK and if there was anything they could do for her. 

Whether it was her health or feeling blue, everyone showed their concern. That was special.

These little things all helped Kayla and us feel more comfortable and not be as upset that she was 1,400 miles away. 

Thanks to The Banner, we would read all about Traill County – and still do.

We would get caught up in the news of each edition.

Even though we had an electronic subscription, we still looked forward to getting the printed edition. 

The entire Banner staff helped from a professional, but also a personal level. 

Whether learning how to install a netcam for the Ice Dawgs team, learn the photography equipment or inviting Kayla over for Fourth of July fireworks in 2020 where she and Jack strapped hot dogs to fireworks, we loved hearing about it all.

And if you’re thinking about asking Kayla to do something on Friday nights this fall, don’t bother, she has the Burros football stream on despite working the morning shift at her new job at CBS 17 in Raleigh, N.C. That she wouldn’t have earned without the people from Traill County.

So, if you see some folks eating lunch at the diner or maybe sipping a beer at the local watering hole, wearing Maryland flag gear and putting Old Bay on their french fries, be sure to say hello!

It might just be us when we return for a visit!

Thank You again Traill County and the Hillsboro Banner for all you did for Kayla (and us) and taking such good care of her in our absence!

Eric, Kelly and Erica Morton

Columbia, Md.