By BRETT MARSHALL
CIMARRON — To find the precious memories of their three years of attending Cimarron schools, Eva and Isabelle Koopman won't have to look very far.
Their parents — Jack and Angeline — are owners of CAG Dairy Farms, with one of those locations being in Gray County. They bought the facility in 2006, and moved their family, including now sixth grade younger sister Lina, in 2010, from Hof Mummendorf, Germany, east of Hamburg.
Cimarron is where Eva and Isabelle came to discover small-town America in this southwest Kansas community with a population of approximately 2,200.
Memories such as learning that British English, as they had been taught in German schools, was far different from the English spoken in southwest Kansas.
Memories such as learning how to play basketball, with no prior experience playing the team sport. It could also be making the adjustment to different classes in school, different food, or just simply a different way of life.
Perhaps it also will be small things — like driving an all-terrain vehicle down the river bed; or driving a golf cart and playing the sport for the first time.
Friday and Saturday, the two sisters will compete in their final sporting event while living in Cimarron, when they head to Wichita for the Kansas State Track and Field Championships at Wichita State's Cessna Stadium.
It will be an emotional weekend for the sisters, for their parents, for their teammates and other classmates.
On May 29, just four days after the state meet concludes, the Koopman family is moving back to Europe, returning to their father's family farm about 30 miles north of Amsterdam. He is a sixth-generation family member and the dairy business has been in existence for more than 110 years. The company also owns dairies in Germany and Russia.
Eva, just completing her sophomore year, will be a favorite in her specialty — the high jump — after clearing a personal best and extending her school mark to 5-07 at Friday's Class 3A regional meet in Holcomb. In her freshman year of competing, Eva placed third in the 3A high jump, clearing 5-04. The two finishers ahead of her, including runner-up and teammate Lindsay Wehkamp, graduated. She'll also be among the favorites in the long jump, where she also came up with her season best of 17-10 on Friday to win her second individual gold. Eva is chasing last year's 3A state champion, Jamie Lovett of Sedgwick, who went 18-03.75 a year ago and has a season best of 18-02.00 this year. A jump of 16-11 in 2012 earned her fifth place. She'll also vie for a medal in the 100-meter hurdles, where she placed fifth a year ago and has a season best time of 16.10, which was good for third at the regional.
Isabelle, who has dabbled in the high jump this year (clearing 5-00), will be running in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events, and is a member of the Lady Bluejays' 4x800-meter relay team that qualified for state.
In trying to explain their three-year "American" experience, both Eva and Isabelle said they wouldn't trade it for anything.
"I don't regret it at all," Isabelle said of their time in Cimarron. "Like, when our parents told us we were coming here, we didn't want to go. But now, now that we're going back to where our family is, it's somewhat the same. Part of us wants to go. Part of us doesn't."
Eva echoed her younger sibling's feelings when talking about the pending departure.
"I'm just trying to not think about it all that much," Eva said. "I'm looking forward to state, but it also means it's getting closer to moving back. I want to do good at state, and end the year on a good note. We don't compete in team track there. It's all individual stuff, so this has all been different for us."
Although the two had picked up a basketball while in Germany, there had been no organized sport for the girls there. That all changed when they arrived in Cimarron. It didn't hurt that they would eventually grow to be 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-1. Eva played a key role on the Lady Bluejays' 2012-13 basketball team that went unbeaten through the regular season, with the lone loss coming in the sub-state championship game. She was named All-Hi-Plains League and was a third-team Telegram All-Area selection. Isabelle was also a reserve on the basketball team.
"Basketball will pretty much disappear," Eva said with a sigh. "Basketball has been way different for us. But we picked it up fast and got a lot of help from the coaches and our teammates. A lot of extra time after practice helped, too. We had to get used to learning plays, but it has been a lot of fun."
Both Eva and Isabelle agreed that learning the distinct styles of English here in southwest Kansas posed some early challenges. But like so many others, they took them head-on.
"We would say something and the kids here would say, 'What are you talking about?'" Isabelle said with a laugh. "They were just different words. If they talked slower, that would help. We would catch on, and I think it just took a couple of weeks before we were able to understand most of it."
The two said their school/class schedule was much different in Cimarron than in Germany.
"It's a smaller school here," Eva said. "We had more breaks in Germany it seems like. It always seemed like a lot of classes in a short day."
Isabelle described the classes in Germany as, "Different subjects where you'd have to pack for the day. Every day here is the same," she said. "I like the classes better here."
The geography of southwest Kansas also was something of a shock to the young Koopman sisters upon their arrival.
"Everything being flat, and the towns being so many miles apart was a big difference," Eva said. "The landscape in Germany was more green, there were more trees, things like that. Getting used to the wind was not easy at first. Now, it's just regular."
Isabelle said the weather in the Netherlands would be much different than southwest Kansas, just as it was in Germany.
"The weather is warmer in the winter (there) and cooler in the summer (than here)," Isabelle said.
Last fall, while Eva was competing with the Lady Bluejays' volleyball team, Isabelle was running the Cimarron girls cross country team. The team qualified for state at Lawrence's Rim Rock Farm, where Isabelle's 11th-place finish earned her a state medal and helped the Lady 'Jays to a 10th-place standing.
"Cross country is very different than what we did in Europe," Isabelle said. "There's really not much individual with the sport there. It's more track. I liked running the different courses much more than running around the track."
With thoughtfulness and a bit of reflection, both girls said they would miss Cimarron.
"Sports were a lot of fun, the people were really nice," Eva said. "People here are way more nicer. They help more than in Germany. They're more open and try to help you, like with the language. We've just got to get used to the change, just like we did when we came here. We will make a new experience."
Isabelle said there will be many fond memories on which to reflect.
"Just being with our friends, going to state, being part of the teams," Isabelle said. "That's the most important. When we came here, we were different. They just accepted us like that."
David Ediger, Cimarron's assistant high school principal, athletic director and girls basketball coach, said the Koopmans would be missed in many ways, and much more so than just their athletic prowess.
"When they first showed up, you see them, and say, 'Wow, they're very tall, you can see that,'" Ediger said. "You saw how well they fit into the school, very respectful to the teachers, to everyone. It's been great seeing them adjust to things. They would make fun of themselves with the language. They're very intelligent. They've fit in here so well with our kids. It feels like they've been here 10 years."
Ediger said the two have made a lasting impression on the Cimarron kids who are native to southwest Kansas.
"On the athletic side, it's amazing to me how quickly they learn, and how quickly they retain things," Ediger said. "I think our kids here have learned a lot from them, too. Just the way they treat people, things like that, have made an impression on kids around here, and also on the teachers and people in the community."
The Koopmans plan to keep a home in Cimarron, allowing them a place to stay when they return on occasion to see the family business as well as visiting friends.
"We hope to come back two or three times a year and see everyone," Eva said. "It won't be quite the same, but at least we'll get to see them every now and then."