By Dan Hardenbrook

Kids are our future, and the employees at Newberry Motors recently made a major investment in that future. Newberry Motors Owner and President Kevin Vanatta recently announced that employees of the dealership raised $20,000 to donate to the Tahquamenon Area Schools Athletic Department for needed upgrades at the Newberry track and football facility.

The track and football enhancement project was launched earlier this school year by Newberry Athletic Director Anthony Kitzman.

Newberry’s track has several large cracks in the concrete surface. Race lanes are filled with holes, the surface is chipped and uneven, and several thousand square feet of surface area has been deemed unsafe to the point that Newberry had to cancel all home track and field events for both the middle and high school teams this season. Runner injuries have been on the rise in recent years and numerous teams refuse to race in Newberry for runner safety reasons.

Both sets of bleachers are also hazardous, with unstable footing and insufficient access to seating areas. There is only one handicap accessible ramp, located on the west end of the home seating area. No upgrades have been made to the seating areas since the press box was renovated and a front-access stairway was installed more than 15 years ago. Many fans, both locals and visitors, have raised concerns and multiple people have fallen, especially when wetter weather makes the stairways and seating areas slick.

Vanatta visited track practice last week, where he met with Newberry student athletes in grades 7-12. He talked to the youth about how important they are to the community, and how much their success means to local residents.

“As I told the students, when they are out there practicing and competing in their meets and events, they are Newberry,” Vanatta said. “They are the face of all of us. They represent all of us!”

A main goal for the Newberry Motors donation was to show local kids that they’re seen and valued.

“We want them to know we believe in what they are doing and all the hard work that they are putting in to represent us,” Vanatta said. “We also believe in them and who they are as individuals. We want them to know that, of course, we always want what’s best for them.”

Vanatta and his employees jumped on the chance to push for positive change for Newberry’s youth.

“We all know that we have that, but we felt a need to put forth that energy,” he said. “It was one thing for us to talk about it, but we needed to do it financially.”

The team at Newberry Motors is hoping that their investment will help enhance Newberry’s image for current and future generations.

Vanatta started conversations after recently attending a local sporting event at the facility.

“It was then, when I almost fell myself, that I realized that somebody was going to get hurt,” he said. “I thought what a shame it would be for all of us if someone were to get seriously hurt, or even dies from this when we are sitting here with a chance to do something about it and we have the chance to correct it.”

Though this is a major step forward, the fundraising efforts continue.

“We are going to continue putting an effort forth to see this thing through to the end,” said Vanatta, who has had conversations with several local businesses and community members, many of whom are motivated or even inspired by the commitment Newberry Motors demonstrated.

“There are a lot of people who are interested and want to get on board and do what they can,” he said. “Some individually may not have the means to personally help, but if we all band together and move forward, this is something we can accomplish. We are all in agreement that this can become a gem in our community that we can take pride in and be proud of for generations. Now is the time. We just need to come together and say ‘Let’s do it and not wait!’”