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Steve Souder has been working as an athletic trainer at Columbus North since the 1970s — and for every one of those years, Bull Dog athletes have been able to recognize him by his mustache.

At least for a little while, Souder might be a little harder to find.

On Thursday night, the North gymnastics team cashed in on a deal offered by Souder — win a state championship, and the ‘stache comes off — during its season-ending banquet at Harrison Lakes Country Club.

“They were biting at the bit,” a clean-shaven Souder said. “They were, especially the three because they come in the training room most often. ‘We’re ready, we’re ready!’ Especially Claire (Thompson).”

The Bull Dogs were gathered to celebrate last month’s state title, the program’s first since the first two IHSAA meets in 1973 and 1974.

As one might imagine, there were plenty of accolades to mete out.

Choosing an MVP was too daunting a task, so it was shared by North’s three All-State gymnasts — senior Katrina May, junior Ashley Holliday and sophomore Claire Thompson. May doubled as the winner of the Bull Dog Award, while Holliday and Thompson were named as the captains of next year’s team.

May and fellow senior Chloe Jorgensen also passed out some “paper plate” awards to teammates and coaches, contributing to what was a joyful cap to a magical season.

“We all went on spring break after the state meet on that Saturday,” North co-coach Sandy Freshour said, “and this was a chance to come back and just love on each other and be with each other and have those moments.”

The real highlight of the night, though, was the girls getting the opportunity to expose Souder’s upper lip to the world after it had spent about four decades in hiding.

The trainer brought all of the necessary supplies in his original medical supply bag, which had accompanied him when he arrived at North in 1975.

“I’d like to keep my lip,” Souder cautioned as he explained the shaving process to the team.

“You’re a trainer,” one of the girls shot back. “You can fix it.”

Thompson, the state all-around champion, made the first swipe with the clippers. May and Holliday and the rest of the girls followed, and before long Souder was down to whiskers.

Souder was noncommittal when asked whether the mustache would make a comeback — but either way, he said that giving it up Thursday was worth it.

For the Bull Dogs, it was the perfect way to end to an already unforgettable season.

“It was a pretty emotional night,” May said, “just because I’ve been doing this for such a long time, and at the end we were able to just put everything together.

“I’m just very blessed to be in the position I’m in as a senior and have these amazing people and a state championship in my pocket right before I leave for college. It’s amazing.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.