By Mike Deak
MILFORD – As I sit in my home office looking out the window, it’s sunny. The leaves on the trees are largely gone, now mostly scattered across my grass. Looking slightly to the left of my office window, my little desk TV offers a less serene scenario, with Lester Holt and Chuck Todd playing fantasy politics in the same fashion Paul Charcian and Andy Behrens would be doing on Sundays for my fantasy football teams.
For all the glory around us, there’s been some ugly in 2020. As one of my work colleagues, Austin Hough, noted earlier in the year, “2020, man.”
OK, so the election has continued the cycle of what many are conceding as a throw-away year of sorts. January and February were fine! First week of March, fine! Then Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz touched all the tape recorders and iPhones in the postgame presser and then everyone got corona. Not really, but for a while, it seemed like it.
We’ve seen contact tracing void Concord of its football playoff appearance, and NorthWood lose its stars in a critical Northern Lakes Conference volleyball game. Oregon-Davis had to forfeit hosting its volleyball sectional and the Crossroads League literally announcing cancellations and alterations by the day.
As all of the world seems to be reshaping before our eyes in “COVID Times” (as one of my friends calls it), I tried to see the other end of the candle. There were good things going on. Things that didn’t involve teenagers smashing Jimmy John’s windows with skateboards or stealing TVs and stuffed animals from Target because their anger told them they were justified. People, at least in the sporting community to which I was observing as a member of sports media, were being kind. And good. And civil. And exhibiting behavior that would be hard pressed to call ‘unbecoming’.
* I watched week one high school football where players began playing a game most said was deemed unsafe, and linemen were helping each other up despite suspecting officials initially feeling that wasn’t a good idea. Eventually, maybe a quarter later, everyone just started playing football again.
* I watched a lot of girls golf to start the season, mostly because they were the only show in town. Quite literally for Elkhart County in August. But at the Warsaw sectional, I heard the No. 5’s for Bremen and Rochester, Grace Mikel and Savanah Eccles, cheering for Whitko’s Abby Arter after Arter connected on a good drive. Arter would eventually shoot better than the other two, but it was a little moment that stood out.
* Same tournament, for whatever reason the Stonehenge clubhouse allowed a group of guys to play directly behind the sectional. Not really a big deal until the guys came up 18, and were suddenly rushed because the sectional had a tiebreaker to settle, and the girls now were waiting on the guys to finish their leisure round. And, of course, they got their cart stuck in the fabled high heather on 18. So, without any prompting, NorthWood’s Abigail Richner and Riley Kitson sprinted across the fairway, in front of 50-75 people, and helped push the cart back onto the fringe. Kitson also, without being asked, helped Warsaw’s Brooklyn Fitzgerald lift her cart over a railing. Again, super minor and inconsequential to the day’s activities, but it was noticed.
* Some area legends were again doing legends things. Hall of Fame media icon Bill Beck returned from the Houston area where he’s living to do a one-off radio broadcast of the Mishawaka-Plymouth football game. Bill mentioned on multiple occasions about how much his phone was blowing up during the broadcast. Not surprising.
As well, having Tom Schermerhorn overseeing West Noble athletics again, and finally getting over to talk shop a few times this fall warmed my heart. After he became one of the posters of ‘this is how serious COVID is’ in the spring, it was great seeing him back with that smile on his face. And the same will be said for Mark Hofer at Fairfield when he fully recovers, whether he comes back to the athletic department or not, great to see he and so many others are beating the virus.
* Watching some dedications were pretty sweet. NorthWood and Wawasee football held a moment of silence as one at midfield to pray for Kim and Norm Sellers. Kim’s cancer has reared its ugly head again, and seeing Norm on the sideline with his son, Chad, brought a tear to my eye during the moment. Poetically, Kyle Sellers scored a touchdown right in front of dad during the game.
Valley also honored one of its own, the team coming out with a banner before the Bell Game for the late Jeff Shriver, in a moment that was tailor-made for Shriver. Valley would go on to pound its rivals and retain the Bell, and reports were Shriver and Scott Bibler were thoroughly pleased watching upstairs.
* All sorts of little moments, like seeing Wawasee’s girls soccer sideline go nuts winning its first match at LCA for rookie coach Luis Camargo, or conversely, standing on LCA’s sideline at the soccer sectional with my two daughters, and having their coaching staff welcome them to the bleachers and even offered them Reese Cups. Nat Raber and Carly O’Hara absolutely didn’t have to, but insisted.
* Watching Wawasee cheerleader Nyla White top the pyramid during a timeout stunt was pretty awesome, reportedly the first time she had ever been up there.
* Seeing AJ Macon of the Fort Wayne Carroll Unified Flag Football team run around looking for someone to hug after they beat Wawasee in the regional, and winding up hugging Wawasee coach Andrew Wilson. Just a highlight of what was a really fun sporting spectacle.
* The NorthWood Panther Hype Wagon kept the mood light at the cross country tournaments, following the runners around the course, and eventually blaring “Chariots of Fire” as the kids labored to the finish line at Ox Bow Park. Perhaps the ultimate cross country moment came at the IHSAA State Finals when Penn’s Ben Boardley stopped to help up a Brebeuf runner.
* Triton is still selling its Yard of Popcorn for a $1, so kudos to Mason McIntyre and the Triton peeps for continuing the tradition of excellence in its concession stand.
* And kudos to all the teams that did fundraisers, food drives, acts of service, wore their masks, stayed after games and helped pick up trash in the bleachers, and acted with courtesy this fall.
* Lastly, it was notable watching the end of the Tippecanoe Valley-Marian football game two weeks ago. While the outcome was long decided as Marian led 41-0 in the second quarter, the Valley seniors still struggled with the loss. Jacob Davis, in particular, wasn’t ready to walk out of Death Valley, and paused at midfield after everyone else had left, took a knee and needed a moment. He stopped a couple extra times heading to the gate, and rather than everyone just leaving him alone, several of his teammates came to him and stayed with him. It wasn’t part of the stat sheet, it wasn’t scripted. It was real and raw emotion. It’s been a year unlike any other in recent memory, and the emotions, whether bad, or in some cases very good, are still shaping who we are today.