SIOUX CITY -- Sioux City Musketeer Brock Baker spent his first Thanksgiving away from home on Thursday. Rather than spending the holiday alone, he feasted with family and friends, part of a group of 20 devouring turkey and trimmings in the home of Mike and Claudia Ratkiewicz, a Sioux City couple who has hosted Musketeers for 15 years.
"Our children were at their in-laws, so we hosted Thanksgiving for our four players, their families and some of our neighbors," Claudia said. "Even though some families traveled, they brought casseroles and snacks. We did two 10-pound turkeys and ham."
Baker's mother and stepfather, Trisha and Troy Jeske, and Baker's younger sister, Halli Baker, left home in Verona, Wisconsin, early Thursday and arrived in time for the holiday meal, yet another bonus the family has earned in years of following their hockey squads. Trisha Jeske said it's the first time in her life she hadn't rung in the holiday at home, as the family Thanksgiving tradition always unfolded in the home of her parents, John and Luainne Fleming of Madison, Wisconsin, parents of seven children themselves.
"For the first time in my life, my parents weren't hosting Thanksgiving this year," Jeske said. "The minute Mike and Claudia found out we were coming, they invited us celebrate Thanksgiving in their home. The food was wonderful!"
The Sioux City couple, who reside at Whispering Creek, also serve as billet parents for Musketeers Matt Miller, Jake Hale and Nolan Krenzen.
"They are great kids," said Claudia, who noted the couple hosted friends on Thursday from their neighborhood as well as Musketeer families from Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Brock Baker said it was nice to have the holiday on the heels of Wednesday evening's 4-2 victory over Waterloo, the team's sixth straight triumph. It worked even better, Baker said, to be surrounded by his hockey family and his immediate family. After the big day, Baker spent time focusing on Fargo, the Friday night foe. A game at Des Moines followed on Saturday.
"The schedule was ideal for my family to be here," he said.
Trisha Jeske has lovingly juggled hockey schedules for years. Her oldest son, Brogan Baker, 22, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, played hockey from an early age, as did son Tarek Baker, 21, and now Brock.
The sons' father, Stephen Baker, now of Portland, Oregon, was a big supporter of their boys as they got involved in AAA hockey, an activity that has only grown in the ensuing years as they traverse the Upper Midwest and more.
Tarek Baker, in fact, currently plays for the Wisconsin Badgers. Sioux City fans may remember the name, as Tarek Baker was traded to Sioux City during the 2017 season and figured on the ice as the Musketeers reached the Clark Cup Finals, falling to Chicago.
"I saw Tarek play two or three times in Sioux City," Trisha said.
When asked to name the geographic area in which she's watched the boys play hockey, Trisha Jeske paused and stated that she's seen one or more sons play in Canada and in every United States Hockey League stadium save for those in Muskegon, Michigan, and Youngstown, Ohio.
"I figured that one year I spent $22,000 on all three playing triple-A hockey and all the camps," she said. "And I wasn't making a lot of money at the time."
Hockey, though, has remained an integral part of the family's makeup, dating back to when one of her brothers, Rick Fleming, helped the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point win its first national title nearly three decades ago. Rick's daughter, Brittyn Fleming, now skates for the Mavericks of Minnesota State University at Mankato.
Brock Baker, 18, is finishing high school through on-line course as he resides in Sioux City this season. He'll study business and play hockey at St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, Minnesota, next year. His family, he reasoned, would likely be there as much as possible, following him across the country, if they're able.
"If we can't be there, we watch the games on-line," Trisha said. "We try to be there as much as possible because we enjoy our boys, their teammates and everyone associated with this sport. Hockey is very much a connected group and there are so many great people and coaches working to make sure these boys succeed both on and off the ice."
People like Mike and Claudia Ratkiewicz and the important role they play won't ever be forgotten, Trisha said. Their commitment and warmth comes through on a daily basis, not just during a holiday feast.
"I am so thankful for billet families as our boys need to eat well, sleep well and be in a good environment," she concluded. "They are truly second parents who you entrust with your children to care for them and keep them safe."
What a great message to hear, on a holiday weekend that seems to center on being together and being thankful.
SIOUX CITY -- Local school officials credit gains in the latest ACT exams to stepped up efforts to focus on core subjects.
"These improvements are a credit to the work done over the past year to more specifically focus on increased student success on the ACT assessment," Sioux City School District Superintendent Paul Gausman said.
The 2018 graduating seniors in each of the district's three high schools all posted better average composite scores than their counterparts the previous year.
Year-over-year scores also rose at four other metro schools -- Bishop Heelan, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Dakota Valley and South Sioux City.
The American College Testing, or ACT, measures students' proficiency in English, math, reading and science reasoning. Each section and the composite is scored from 1 to 36.
In the Midwest, the ACT is an academic benchmark commonly used for college admissions and many scholarships.
The Sioux City School District's three high schools combined for an average composite of 20.9 in 2018. East and North each scored 21.0 while West posted a 20.6.
2017 graduating seniors at the three schools who took the test combined for an average composite of 20.2, with East at 20.7, North at 20.6 and West at 19.1.
The overall composite for the Sioux City District score was 20.7 in 2016, the last of three straight years of gains that began in 2014.
"...While the ACT is an important indicator for college readiness, it is just one of the many tools we use to assess student preparedness for the future," Gausman said in a statement. "Today’s students need opportunities and preparation for not only post-secondary education, but also career readiness."
Among metro schools, Heelan posted the highest 2018 composite -- 24, up from 22.8 in 2017 and 23.1 in 2016.
Heelan Director of Guidance Bob Geary noted that while the average composite in Iowa and national scores dropped slightly to 21.8 and 20.8, respectively, Heelan students showed a marked improvement in each section.
"Our student diversity is growing and we continue to maintain a very high standard with the ACT. We attribute this to our strong academic curriculum and the willingness of our students to put in the extra time preparing for ACT testing," Geary said.
Ninety-six percent of graduating seniors took the test this year, Geary said, in line with the 90 to 95 percent of students who typically take it.
Just behind Heelan's 2018 leading mark was Dakota Valley, which saw its average composite score increase for the fourth straight year. This year, the southeast South Dakota district posted a composite of 23.5, up from 23.0 in 2017 and 22.8 in 2016.
"We are proud that the Dakota Valley ACT results continue to annually be above the state and national averages, which certainly reflects well on the efforts of our staff and students, the scores also are just one of the data points which we use to in conjunction with other information to strive to provide the best opportunities for our students to continue their success beyond high school," Dakota Valley Superintendent Jerry Rasmussen said.
The statewide composite in South Dakota was 21 in South Dakota, down slightly from the previous year
After two years of year-over-year losses, the Sergeant Bluff-Luton gained nearly a full point in its 2018 ACT score. Graduating students posted an average composite score of 23.4, up from 22.5 last year and 22.8 of 2016.
SB-L Superintendent Rod Earleywine said it is "the highest composite score we have had over the past five years and well above the state average of 21.8."
South Sioux City was the only metro district to rate below the state and national average composite scores, but the district's 2018 score of 17.6 comes with an asterisk.
Unlike Iowa and South Dakota, Nebraska is one of 20 states that administer the test to all juniors. That practice began in the 2016-17 school year.
Prior to joining an ACT pilot project where all students sat for the exam, about 40 percent of all South Sioux students took the test and the district composite score was about 20, said high school principal Ashley Odell.
"Because we test 100 percent of our junior students, we gain valuable insight into our programming and the outcomes for our students after high school. We are able to ensure that no matter the circumstance, we are opening doors for students who may not otherwise have these opportunities," Odell said.
South Sioux City's average composite this year was up from 16.5 in 2017 and 17.4 in 2016.
Odell said "the growth that our students have shown is a testimony to the effort they put into their coursework. It's also a testimony to the our district's recent curriculum endeavors."
In Nebraska, the average composite score was 21.4 in 2018.