Amid the happy tears and the fan cheers and banner presentations in Goose Lake on Monday, one face was missing from the crowd for Northeast junior Neveah Hildebrandt.
As Hildebrandt was greeted by friends and family after the over Regina win gave the Rebel softball team the school’s first state berth, she knew there was a hug that wasn’t coming. Hildebrandt’s mother, Teri Hildebrandt, passed away last October. That sent the 17-year-old’s world into chaos.
But Neveah Hildebrandt is a four-sport athlete at Northeast High School, playing volleyball, basketball, softball and running track. Her work in athletics along with the support of the Northeast community all of a sudden became a foothold for her as she worked through the loss of her mom.
“The Northeast community was crazy supportive,” Hildebrandt said, reflecting back to the fall of 2019. “I got cards and other gifts from every single one of my coaches. I think pretty much the whole Northeast community showed up to her celebration of life which was really cool.”
Hildebrandt came back to school and helped her basketball team start a shift towards a winning culture, ending with one of their best records in the last five years.
Although she missed her chance at qualifying for state track because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic this spring, the softball team came out ready to impress.
The Rebels are sitting at 19-2 heading into next week’s state tournament, their only losses coming at the hands of top-five teams. Northeast themselves are ranked No. 4 in Class 2A.
With each win this season, she was reminded a little more of the impact Teri Hildebrandt had as a Rebel supporter.
“It is always kind of hard for me after games,” Hildebrandt said. “Some more than others. Sometimes I catch myself checking for good luck texts before games, or one that says “Good job girl!!’ afterwards.”
The regional championship in front of the home crowd was no exception.
“I had a lot of fun with my team after qualifying for state, but when it came time to go talk to my family it hit me. She was always my biggest supporter and it hurt a lot that she wasn’t able to be there.”
Her family has been an integral part of grieving, though. Her two older siblings – Ben and Tierra – have definitely looked out for her as well as each other.
“My family had definitely been really important in the healing process,” Hildebrandt said. “I can’t thank my siblings enough for all that they do for me. Even though they were hurting, too, they put me first because I’m their ‘baby’ sister.”
A state-sprinter and All-State centerfielder, Neveah Hildebrandt is an elite athlete for the 2A school. Part of the qualities that make her such a good performer and an impeccable teammate came from her mother, a piece that keeps Teri Hildebrandt among the blue and gray of the school on Hwy. 136.
“My siblings always say I’m a lot like my mom,” Hildebrant said. “I asked them this question and they said that I’m stubborn and hard-headed, just like she was. She did anything for the people she loved, and I try to do that as best as I can as well.”
Losing a parent isn’t easy at any age, but Hildebrandt is still growing up. It’s a situation kids have trouble imagining, and when it comes it hits them hard.
But moving forward when it was hard has it’s effects, too – making Neveah and her family stronger every day.
“I think it has made me a lot more independent,” Hildebrandt said. “She was the one who cooked for me when I came back tired from practice or a game, washed all my uniforms, made all of my dentist appointments and stuff like that. After she died I had to take more responsibility and learn how to do more on my own.”
Among all the congratulations on social media following Monday’s win, many members of the Rebel Community mentioned Teri Hildebrandt. One of her children stated how much she would have loved to see the moment, while others said they knew of a happy Northeast fan somewhere in Heaven.
Despite the strength of Hildebrandt and the trials the last year brought, it’s still hard. And when she takes the field on Tuesday morning in her state softball debut, there will still be a face missing from the crowd.
“I try my best not to think about her during the game because it’s hard not to cry,” Hildebrandt admitted. “But I know that after the game – hopefully multiple – I will because a lot of my family will be out there supporting me, and I just wish she could be, too.”