By Mike Deak
WARSAW – My kids’ bedroom was a disaster. My wife had long since checked out in dealing with the mess, which looked like the room had been spin cycled into a casserole. Like Milford library had tilted sideways onto their floor, then covered in a Toys ‘R’ Us convoy of stuffed animals and princess dolls, and then Goodwill’s clothing dropbox tipped over and put the laundry icing on the Pyrex of inhumanity.
It was a typical Wednesday afternoon, begging and pleading with a six-year-old and a four-year-old to respect the things they had. Eventually our bribing chip – poms for their chore jars – convinced the older sister to get the room in order. A full jar of poms means spending money for whatever they want as a reward for the work. As I wished we had a 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck backing into the driveway, we eventually cleaned up the mess and order was restored. The poms served as the ‘worth’ to the mess. It’s a nominal system, and it works.
All to be said, cleaning up their room a day before Thanksgiving gave me pause. I was reminded that the little things in life matter to a degree, but there is always a bigger goal and purpose.
My public life is generally spent on the clock at a sporting arena of some sort. After beginning 2020 covering – and I still can’t believe my first – state championship with NorthWood girls basketball, I felt very fulfilled as a professional. I was super busy, but I was enjoying life.
Enter mid-March when everything came to a standstill, and there were plenty of reasons to worry. I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. Sports were all canceled, and I watched sports employee after employee lose their ability to work. While there was enough to chase around, those bustling arenas became my quaint house office, and that messy bedroom was part of the work environment. It was the new normal.
March turned to April, April turned to May, and May turned to June, and still no one was playing. Then little league started up at Warsaw and Wawasee. Not exactly the filet mignon of sports coverage opportunities. And, honestly, I had to be reminded that I should be thankful to be working something.
Hustling six weeks of little league this past summer just became normal. And despite the stigmas that everyone had about being in public and around each other, it was fun! The big camera lens tends to start a lot of conversations. Little league coaches also claim they don’t want to be interviewed, but tend to talk quite a bit once they get going.
When high school sports slowly reconvened in August, that normalcy had returned. Eventually, Notre Dame football was gracing televisions in September, and the NFL and MLB schedules continued that aim to get the sports world back on track. Quietly, fall sports at the local level kept wondering if they would reach the finish line. And one by one, they did. Golf concluded with a pair of Northern Lakes Conference teams in NorthWood and Concord in the team state tourney.
Tennis then hit the finish line, followed by cross country, soccer and volleyball. It wasn’t the smoothest ride. Teams – and schools in general – dealt with COVID-related issues along the way. But, schools like NorthWood saw its boys soccer team reach the semi-state for the first time ever, and Tippecanoe Valley won the TRC golf title then qualified for the regional for only the second time ever. Warsaw had both of its cross country teams in Terre Haute in what was an exciting ride through the state tournament ladder.
Again, the overriding feeling among the programs was being thankful for the opportunity to compete and succeed.
What a pandemic has shown me in 2020 is to be thankful. In March and April, I was thankful to have enough toilet paper and microwave popcorn to get by, and a check to pay for them. In the summer, it was having Tony Clay and Jamie Beer treat me like I was ESPN.
The start of the fall reminded me that the people are what makes this job so fulfilling. Seeing a Chandra Hepler take over the Warsaw volleyball program she loves dearly. Seeing a Chad Briscoe overseeing the athletes he wasn’t sure would be on Grace’s campus with each alert ping from his work email program. Seeing spring athletes come back and compete with another sport in the fall, not losing two in a row and losing hope. Seeing my friends in the business slowly return to work.
If I had my way, I would give a handful of poms to each athletic director for their jars. What they are putting up with on a daily basis with scheduling changes, public and private complaining, budget issues, their own health worries and for those associated, it’s a lot.
But I would remind everyone to take a minute today, and tomorrow, and each day forward, and be thankful. My daughter thanked me for helping clean up that giant mess, and to which she was rewarded with her poms. My job reminds me I’m lucky to be where I’m at, even if a messy bedroom, figuratively and literally, sometimes is part of my work environment.