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A broken leg couldn’t stop Courtney Black from BHS graduation ceremonies Saturday

Courtney Black, far left, was among 331 Bemidji High School graduates to take part in a commencement ceremony Saturday at the Sanford Center. Black and 40 other students were distinguished as honors graduates for the Class of 2013. Trent Opstedahl | Bemidji Pioneer 1 / 2
Bemidji High School catcher Courtney Black shows the ball is in the glove to the umpire, but Brainerd’s Bailey O’Hotto is safe after tagging from third on a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning Thursday. Black broke her leg later Thursday in Bemidji’s loss to Elk River. A senior, Black graduated Saturday from Bemidji High School. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI — High school graduation — it’s one of the most momentous days in the life of the average American teenager. Gathering with classmates, walking across stage to receive a diploma and hurling caps as a way of recognizing achievement — it’s all part of the graduation routine.

Newly graduated Bemidji High School alumna Courtney Black understands the importance of the event, since she nearly missed out on the chance to participate in Saturday’s graduation commencement ceremony after breaking two bones in her left leg because of a sports-related injury.

"I was so relieved to know I could walk across the stage," she said.

During her last high school softball game Thursday night, the Lumberjack catcher sustained bone fractures in both her left tibia and fibula, and according to Black, she had no idea what had happened.

"We were in the fifth inning, and there was a girl running to home and the ball was thrown to me; I went to tag her and she slid into my leg and knocked me down," Black recalled, who also noted that she did, in fact, tag the girl out. "I didn’t know what had happened, but I saw my pitcher standing over me and I was like, ‘Oh, I have to give her the ball.’"

Seeing Black gripping her leg and laying on the ground, Jon Laakso, a Bemidji High School athletic trainer, knew immediately what had happened.

"With her body positioning putting the weight on that leg and the placement of her ankle, I knew it was not going to be good coming down from that fall," Laakso said.

Laakso rushed to Black to check out the injury, and recognizing an injury he had while in graduate school, he immediately scanned the area to find a suitable object for a splint.

"The first thing I saw was a folded up pizza box in the trash as I was running over to get my Ace wrap," Laakso said with a hint of laughter.

After being rushed to the hospital and going into surgery early Friday morning to have two plates put in her leg, Black said she was determined to attend her graduation ceremony.

"I hoped it (my broken leg) was not going to hold me back. I’m a pretty tough girl, so I knew I’d be able to get through graduation," Black said while smiling at her father, Spencer.

"It’s a tough thing for a father to see something like this happen," Spencer said, who rushed Courtney to the hospital and stayed with her through the night. "To see her go down and know there is nothing you can do to fix it right away; it’s a hard thing to go through."

After recovering most of Friday, Courtney was discharged from the hospital later that afternoon and found herself preparing for graduation the next day.

As an honors graduate, Courtney was the first of 331 seniors to walk across the stage just before noon Saturday.

"The thing I’m probably going to remember the most about it (graduation) is the fact that I got to walk and do this despite what happened," she said while looking at her recently received diploma.

And while Courtney said she is relieved to know her injury did not prevent her from formally graduating, her damaged leg has caused her strain.

"The toughest thing is I’ll have to miss all of my friends’ grad parties, and I’ll be limited at my own party," said Courtney, tearfully.

According to Spencer, the recovery phase should last for a good part of the summer, but he’s hopeful his daughter can continue living her athletic lifestyle.

"I have it figured when she is ready to have the shorter cast on in a couple weeks, she can start going back to the gym to work her upper body," he said.

Aside from staying fit, Courtney said she also wants to keep coaching in a local youth softball league.

Reflecting on her high school career, Courtney said she is going to miss athletics. "I’ll probably miss sports the most in high school," said Courtney, who also was a back row defensive specialist on the volleyball team. "All through the year, I had athlete friends I could always count on to lean on."

The youngest of three children, Courtney plans to attend the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to study journalism and the mass communications industry

"I’m pretty excited to go down there and do new things," she said.