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Dream Team

by Carson Kent

The senior year of high school golf for Destyn Markel was canceled because of the pandemic, altering his life, and the lives of so many others, who are left with what might have been.

Destyn Markel
Destyn Markel

The COVID-19 pandemic has burned its fingerprints into our daily lives since its emergence in early 2020. The sports world took a particularly hard punch, as professional leagues and organizations around the world shut down overnight, scrambling to schedule and reschedule and postpone entire seasons.

While professional athletes were at center stage during the shutdowns, they were not the only competitors impacted. From local leagues and tournaments to high school sports, the weight of the pandemic was felt by athletes at every level.

Destyn Markel is now a freshman at Wenatchee Valley College in the town of Omak, Wash., which has a population of 4,774 in the dry eastern part of the state. In 2020, he was a senior at Omak High School, where he played on the boys’ golf team.

Destyn is a relative newcomer to the game, first picking up the clubs his freshman year of high school. He was a football player at the time, but during the offseason found himself looking for another athletic outlet. The golf season lined up perfectly to allow him to play both sports, so he joined the team. And by the time his junior year rolled around, he knew which sport had his heart.

“I eventually really started liking golf,” Destyn said, “My junior year I started to get so much into it that I eventually quit football so I could play golf that fall.”

He rapidly improved as a player, making it to the State Championship alongside two teammates his junior year, and even picked up his school’s “Athlete of the Month” honor during that time, the first golfer to do so at Omak High.

Destyn was looking forward to his senior year being another breakout season and hopefully propelling him to post-graduation playing opportunities in college.

In 2020, Omak’s team had all the components to achieve a great season. They returned the three players who had made it to the State Championship a year before and were excited to flex their experience and make another run at the championship.

The team had been practicing in preparation for their first tournament slated for mid-March when initial reports of the Coronavirus pandemic began to trickle in.

It was one day before their first tournament that Omak High’s in-person instruction, and subsequently Destyn’s golf season, was put on indefinite hold.

While Destyn and his teammates held out hope that they would be able to return in late April and play a shortened season, that hope soon dissipated and gave way to the reality that the golf season would be cancelled, and Destyn and his teammates would never get their chance at the fantastic season they were hoping for.

“I was bummed,” Destyn admits. “I felt like we could’ve had a really good season, both the team and me individually.”

Unlike many athletes who were able to pick up where they left off once the necessary precautions were put in place, Destyn and his senior teammates would not have such an opportunity. Their position as seniors meant that they would be graduating at the end of the year, unable to return and compete alongside each other ever again. The loss of their season was devastating for all members of the team, but it stung especially hard for those like Destyn who would not be able to return next year.

It would have been understandable for Destyn to let the somber situation keep him down, but he was determined to keep improving his game even during the shutdowns and did not give up hope on his goal of playing golf.

“I took advantage (of the time off) and used it to work on my game and look towards the future.”

He works on his game nearly every day at Okanogan Valley Golf Club on the outskirts of Omak, and now also works at the course on the grounds crew.

“He’s here all the time anyway, so I offered him a job,” said Okanogan Valley PGA Professional Dean Dorland. “He loves the game.”

This summer Destyn will be playing a schedule of statewide amateur events, and will stay in Omak another year before moving on to wherever the game will take him.

He is just one of countless seniors who had a pivotal and formational year in their lives stripped by COVID. Destyn’s commitment to the game he loves and drive to succeed have pushed him through the pandemic, through the lockdowns, through the quarantine, through remote and solitary learning.

“A lot of high school athletes’ dreams were ruined by COVID,” he says. “It’s hard to know, at the moment, what it all means. I love this game, and I continue to put in the work and the time, and I know people around me also put in the work. Golf may be an individual sport, but nobody ever succeeds alone.”

(This article previously appeared in the June 2021 issue of Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.)

Carson Kent is a freelance sportswriter based in Austin, Texas. He previously worked as a staff writer at the Baylor Line Foundation covering sports on Baylor University’s campus.