SYRACUSE — Sometimes in life we are all hit with a wake up call. A moment that makes us reevaluate the environment we live in and reminds us to stop and smell the proverbial roses. One of those moments hit the Wawasee community Friday night at a basketball game when the Warriors welcomed in Plymouth. The visiting Pilgrims would ultimately win the conference match, 57-30, but the final score is not what fans will take away from Friday night.
Before the start of the second half, word had gotten out that Wawasee student KC Ochs had taken his own life earlier in the day. Few students knew about the tragic event when it first happened Friday evening, but it did not take long for the grim news to spread.
Exact cause of death and circumstance were still pending police investigation Friday.
While taking notes at the beginning of the third quarter, I was seated above and across from the student section. Having already heard the news myself, I noticed a slight change in the student section as the game carried on. The news of their fallen classmate spread through the student section like a plague. What started as a peppy, standing student section at the beginning of the half, ended as a fully seated and somber group by the end of the third quarter. At this point, a third of the students had left the game altogether. Others had left the student section and went to sit with their parents. The look of utter confusion was clear on most of their faces.
The news of the young man’s death began to spread throughout the gym during the fourth quarter. Fans sitting around me began to get the news and shared the same feeling of shock that was now even more imminent on the faces of the students left in attendance. At this point the cheerleaders had taken a seat in front of the students, which caught the attention of the remaining fans that had not yet realized what was going on around them.
Following the game the scene became even more heart-wrenching. A few students that had remained so calm for so long could simply not handle it anymore and the tears started to fall. Wawasee head coach Phil Mishler was informed of the tragic news following the game. The coach headed straight to the locker room where he was to inform his team of what had happened.
On the court, students still with looks of shock on their faces could be overheard saying how nice the young man was. One student commented to me on how he sat next to him in his final class everyday, and had just seen him earlier that day. “It just does not make any sense,” the student stated.
In the hallway outside of the gym, a line of parents and friends waited for the players to come out of the locker room. A crowded hallway full of people carried looks of disbelief and terror on their faces. One by one the players would exit the locker room, all quiet, some looked around for their parents or girlfriends, others walked right out of the building, as fast as their feet would let them.
Back in the gym, parents were trying to console their distraught children. The scene was unlike anything I had ever seen before. As the students filtered out, the faculty could now start to express the pain that they had been feeling during what became a meaningless basketball game. The pain was just as easily seen on their faces as it was the students.
This night that was designated for cheering and making fond memories all in the name of competitive sport was brought to a screeching halt. While the loss of this life will never truly be comprehended, I ask you to remember to talk to your friends and loved ones as much as you can. We never truly know when someone is in need.
Secondary to the unfortunate event tonight was the basketball game itself. The game between the Warriors and Pilgrims was one that Plymouth controlled from start to finish.
Though Plymouth played a nearly flawless first quarter fundamentally, the Pilgrims failed to hit shots consistently. The Warriors were able to keep pace and only trail 12-6 after the first. Unfortunately for Wawasee, Plymouth started hitting shots more frequently in the second quarter, while the Warriors still struggled to connect. Wawasee shot a dismal 13 percent from the floor in the first half, making just two shots from beyond the arc and picking up the rest on free throws.
After a relatively quiet first quarter, 6’9” junior forward Mack Mercer turned it on in the second. Mercer was a physical force for the Pilgrims on defense. The punishing Pilgrim was constantly shutting down the inside game for Wawasee. Defensively Mercer had nine rebounds, six blocks and a pair of steals. On offense the big man added a pair of assists and led all scorers with 14 points.
The Pilgrims had a very balanced attack on offense all night with three players scoring double digits and having 23 assists as a team. As for the Warriors, they improved their shooting in the second half but still ended up shooting just 23 percent from the field for the game. Wawasee only connected on seven of the 27 three-point shots it took. Another stat that hurt Wawasee all night was turnovers. The Warriors committed 11 in the first half and totaled 17 for the game.
Scoring was at an unusual low for the home team on Friday as no Warrior got into double digits. Sharpshooting sophomore Alex Clark only shot 1-7 from the floor and finished with just six points on the night. Leading the Warriors with points was Aaron Voirol, the sophomore had eight on the night.
Following the game coach Mishler was unavailable for comment as he was informing his team of the night’s unfortunate news.
The loss drops Wawasee to 3-9 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. The Warriors will travel to Dunlap next week to take on Concord with tip off set for 7:30 p.m.
In junior varsity action the Pilgrims won 43-32 over the Warriors. Voirol led Wawasee with 10 points.