It was a traditional moment linked to history. An instant classic if you will. For a few seconds anyway.
Last Friday Bryon Clouse and the Hanover Central Wildcats’ boys basketball team were in two vans. Police cars and fire trucks led them out of Cedar Lake as they embarked on their trip to South Bend for the Class 3A regional.
But as we’ve all learned in the last few days, things can dramatically change in an instant.
“We got the message before we got to Main Street in Crown Point,” Hanover coach Bryon Clouse said. “It was a shock.”
Instead of playing Mishawaka Marian in the first semifinal, the vans were turning around and heading home. The IHSAA postponed the tournament due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, nothing had changed in a world where the news cycle seems to be about eight seconds.
No Hoosier Hysteria. No cheerleaders. No packed gyms. Nothing.
Nothing but unanswered questions.
“Is this real?”
“Why did they do this?”
"What can be done to bring it back?”
My heart breaks for every basketball player, coach and fan. Our local teams still alive in the tournament -- Valparaiso, Merrillville, Hanover Central, Hammond, Bowman Academy and 21st Century -- I don’t know what to say to you all. Something so treasured and wonderful just vanished in the blink of an eye.
Clouse saw the writing on the wall. The NCAA cancelled the men’s and women’s basketball tournament, along with spring sports. All professional sports have been shut down. Bars and restaurants have been closed, along with schools almost everywhere.
The IHSAA originally set up the regionals to be played with only 75 fans from each school present. But the spread of this frightening disease caused commissioner Bobby Cox to pull the plug on our great tournament that is in its 110th version.
“I told our players this (the regional) might be it,” Clouse said. “So we wanted to go out on Saturday and play our best basketball of the year. I didn’t see how it could go past Saturday, not with everything going on.”
So the Wildcats returned home and something incredible happened. The players went to the court at a teammates’ house. They laced up their sneakers and picked teams to play the game they love. “They wanted to play some basketball together one last time,” Clouse said.
The Hammond Wildcats were the favorite at the South Bend Washington Regional. Coach Larry Moore Jr. was also on the bus with his team heading east. The message came and the bus turned around. The ‘Cats got back in time for lunch and to attend their last class.
“This is bigger than high school basketball,” Moore Jr. said. “I feel shocked by what the country is going through, and the world, too. I’m just concerned for the health and safety for our families and friends. I want everyone to stay safe and healthy.”
I believe the IHSAA is led by great people, folks who are doing their best in these very difficult times. I do not know if another net will be hung this season. I do not know if the spring sports season will ever be played.
This is so sad.
But Moore Jr. speaks for everyone in the basketball world.
“I never thought I would love the word postponed so much,” he said. “So maybe we have some hope. Maybe something can happen.”
That would be great, coach.
I would much rather see police cars and firetrucks leading buses out of and into town in a community celebration.
If things don’t change those vehicles could be moving in a much more somber direction.
God help us all.
Normal is now over.
Something seen in the rearview mirror.
I can’t even believe I’m about to type this, but here goes nonetheless. The Indiana High School Athletic Association needs to finish the boys basketball state tournament in empty gyms. The same should take place for other prep events.
The frightening and world-changing expansion of the Coronavirus is changing everything by the second. Tick. Tick. Tick. Consequently, Hoosier Hysteria should be played with fans staying at home, safe.
On Saturday the regional round of the boys basketball tournament will take place. In Class 4A Merrillville will play Valparaiso at Michigan City. In 3A, Hanover Central will play Mishawaka Marian and Hammond battles Western in the other semifinal at South Bend Washington. Bowman Academy will play LaVille in the 2A tournament at North Judson. And in Class A, 21st Century will play Elkhart Christian at Triton.
And all of the fans supporting these great teams should stay home. Stay safe.
On March 6 the IHSAA released the following statement in regards to the dangerous breaths of the COVID-19 health crises.
“The Indiana High School Athletic Association, Inc. is aware of the case of COVID-19 in Marion County, IN that was reported this morning. We will continue to monitor the developments and listen to medical experts and if it becomes necessary to make adjustments to high school sporting events, we will work with our member schools to take every precaution to ensure a healthy and safe environment for everyone involved.”
Since this was released, the sports world has changed dramatically. Like nothing these eyes, or your eyes, have ever seen.
The NBA has suspended its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
The NCAA announced that its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be played in mostly empty gyms. When March Madness makes a move this overwhelming, shouldn’t the state of Indiana do the same thing?
I would say yes in the strongest language possible.
This pandemic is sweeping the world downward and great traditions must adjust to keep people safe. The NBA and NCAA have chosen to put human beings in front of profits. The IHSAA should do the exact same thing.
This is not normal, average or just a hiccup. This is a dash into a scary new place.
Tom Hanks has the Coronavirus. Colleges across the country are now doing all teaching online. Chicago cancelled the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Ivy League cancelled its basketball tournaments.
The SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 will continue their basketball tournaments, but without fans in the stands.
There are too many unknowns with the Coronavirus and its deadly spread. I believe we will defeat this plague in time. Our medical people are the best in the world and they are working hard to come up with better ways to test this and find a cure.
But until that day comes, we need to find comfort in faith and family and living our lives in a new way.
And not attending the Indiana boys basketball tournament is where we are today. We should all stay home. Stay safe.
I hope the IHSAA agrees with me on this very important issue.
Yeah, we all be getting old. Or older.
This coming week the 110th Indiana boys basketball state tournament tips off. Hoosier Hysteria is older than cars, refrigerators, TVs, I-phones and Joe Biden. This madness in March has kept us all warm for generations.
Expect more of the same in the next few weeks.
The Region has a lot of heavy favorites in our local sectionals. But we all know that doesn’t always mean so much. We’ve all seen Hoosiers, and the upset specials have a historical pull to Indiana residents.
There are big favorites. There will be upsets. There always are.
So this is how I see it.
Gary’s 21st Century is the heavy favorite. These Cougars are deep and good. Johnell Davis is one of the best players in the state. And they will be coming together for coach Rodney Williams, who will step down after this season.
As long as this team doesn’t do a 2011 Bowman Academy, the 21C will cut down the nets. But host Kouts on a Saturday night will be a tough out.
Bowman Academy Sectional
This is the toughest field to pick locally. Defending state champion Andrean is still good, but the talent losses in a year bring the 59ers back to the field. A solid Lake Station team will get to the final while Andrean, Bishop Noll, Bowman and Marquette Catholic battle it out on the other side.
Which team will put together a great week of ball? This one’s tough. I am going to go with the host Eagles. Home cooking always tastes good.
And speaking of home cooking and wonderful things that are old, the Hammond Civic Center will be rocking this week and purple will be everywhere. The Hammond Wildcats are the best team and they might be the second-best squad, too. Coach Larry Moore Jr. and his staff have put together a great program that is looking for nets to cut down outside of the home town.
Hanover Central Sectional
The host Wildcats are 21-2 and need to beat Kankakee Valley (9-13) and Knox (12-10) to get to Saturday night. Coach Bryon Clouse’s team cut down the nets last year, for only the second time in school history, and the ‘Cats should do it again.
But it will not be easy.
East Chicago Sectional
Munster (21-1) is the best team in this tough tournament and Mike Hackett’s fellas got the bye, too. But with Merrillville (9-12), E.C. Central (11-11), Highland (12-11), Lake Central (12-11) and West Side (12-8), all solid programs with good talent, arriving at the same gym this week, this is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
The tickets will be sold. The popcorn will be popped. And Munster will move on.
Chesterton (21-2) has the best record and Valparaiso (15-8) got the best draw. On February 21st Chesterton beat Valpo by three in Chesterton. Expect these two programs to play again on Saturday night.
This will be the best game on Saturday night. Three points or less. I’m going with Marc Urban’s Trojans in a nail-biter. Jake Wadding is the best player in this gym and he will find a way.
So that’s how I see it. Now, where are my Nikes and Preparation H? It’s been 110 years. Wow.
MERRILLVILLE -- Sunday night was a pretty cool experience for myself.
And no, it had absolutely nothing to do with the NBA All-Star game. I did get home in time to watch the second half of the “game” with all kinds of new rules and schemes and nonsense, but that nearly put me to sleep.
All-Star games are pointless, especially when played in the arena of one of the worst organizations in basketball. I only wish Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen would’ve walked onto the floor to call a timeout with three seconds left in the game.
But I digress.
I was invited to attend to the Andrean Sports Hall of Fame banquet in the school’s cafeteria. This class of 2020 was insane, a who’s who of greatness at one of the Region’s most impressive athletic schools in the last 25 years.
Andrean baseball coach Dave Pishkur was very kind with the microphone in his hand, welcoming me personally and thanking me for all the 59ers’ stories these fingers have penned over the years. The memories of all the games, teams, players and coaches I’d seen at 5959 Broadway rushed to my brain pulling in and made me smile.
A tear came to my eyes, too.
Memories light the corners of my mind. Misty water-colored memories, of the way we were.
Dennis Gutowski was the Master of Ceremonies and he had a lot to say about those honored.
Sara Butterworth-Tomasevich graduated in 2000 and was a soccer and softball star, leading Andrean to a state championship game appearance in each sport. She kicked the ball at Tampa in college.
Joe Mack graduated in 2006. He was a star in the 2005 baseball state championship team. He then played at Ball State and Northern Kentucky.
Audrey Bickel graduated in 2010 and she was the best hitter I ever covered in 25 years. When she hit the ball folks ran for cover. Her home run in the 2007 state championship was the game winner. She then starred at Ball State, setting records all along the way.
Kenny Mahala graduated in 2010 and was perhaps the best player in Andrean baseball history. He was the best on Pishkur’s ‘09 and ‘10 state championship teams. He then played at Ball State, too.
Sean Manaea also graduated in 2010. He wasn’t at the event. He’s at Spring Training for the Oakland A’s. The massive lefty threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox in 2018 and started the Wild Card game last fall. You should be able to watch him on the TV for the next decade.
Phil Mason returned “home” as he said and was inducted. He coached the 59ers from 2008 through 2015, winning state in ‘13 and returning to the state final in ‘14. The current coach at Michigan City thanked the student athletes, their parents and his family in an emotional speech.
“Thanks for allowing your kids to call me coach,” he said. “That means the world to me.”
Bob Buscher coached the 59ers boys basketball program from 1988 through 1996, winning five single-class sectionals. Under his leadership, Andrean went from average to excellent on the hardwood and this has remained so ever since. Please keep coach Buscher in your prayers as he wasn’t able to make it due to a family illness.
All these names you know and remember. You’ve probably never heard of George Walton. The success of Andrean comes from people who work behind the scenes to make sure the lights are plugged in and the goalposts are straight on the field of play. This is what Walton did for many years. All high schools have such volunteers who sweat and work off the main stage. Make sure you say thank you to people like Walton.
And finally, Andrean’s 2012 softball team was inducted. Coach Brooke Baker-Runyon and several members of that great team were there. They did a group speech about what that talented team was able to accomplish, led by pitching ace Nikki Steinbach.
Having been away from such things for a year and a half I was moved by the words and stories spoken at the event. These Hall of Famers spoke of sacrifice. Giving it everything you have every day. Belief in others. A collective example of the old saying, “Tradition Never Graduates.”
Family was spoken about a lot. This is the backbone of athletic success on Broadway.
Thank you for allowing me to observe this great event and great people. It was a lot of fun.
Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line? If we had a chance to do it all again, tell me would we? Could we?
DA REGION -- The Super Bowl is over. I was pleased with the outcome.
Patrick Mahomes showed us all how special of a quarterback he is. Something Bears general manager Ryan Pace seemed to miss a few years ago.
Thanks for that, pal.
The commercials were extremely expensive and mostly dull. Zzzzzzzzz. I heard funnier jokes in the living room I was chill’n in. How much money do these folks get paid? And where can I get an application?
The Halftime Show was musically good and the dancing was pretty good. I would have thrown a few “backfield in motion” flags at the stars on the stage, but that’s just me. I liked our culture a little better when everything wasn’t shoved in our faces every two seconds.
So now what do we do? Baseball doesn’t start for a couple of weeks and the NCAA basketball tournament is a month away. I have a suggestion. Take in some Hoosier Her-steria this week as the IHSAA’s 45th annual girls basketball state tournament tips off on Tuesday night.
The young ladies work extremely hard every day to be the best they can be. They learn to be the best teammates possible. This week is a celebration of our future and we should all take in some games with a little popcorn.
So here are your winners, folks. I have looked into the crystal ball and believe I know who will win at each local site.
Morgan Twp. Sectional: The host Cherokees are the best team in the field and got a good draw. They’ve beaten a solid Kouts team twice and should do it again. Playing in the home gym helps the cause. Morgan will win.
Culver Sectional: I don’t know. It’s too far away.
Whiting Sectional: This field should be fun. Buy a pierogi and get ready for some great players and teams. Bishop Noll’s Courtney Blakely is the best of the bunch. This point guard can fill it up from almost anywhere, just like her mama -- Angela Hamblin, who starred at Lew Wallace and Iowa.
Lake Station’s Taylor Austin is also very talented. And you better bring three pencils if you’re keeping the book. But my pick is the Andrean 59ers. A little more team depth will help. Playing a tougher schedule, too.
Hebron Sectional: There are five teams with winning records here, all very capable squads. While I haven’t seen North Judson play yet, being ranked No. 9 in the state gives me enough info to put the Blue Jays at the top of the heap. Keep an eye out for South Central on the other side of the bracket.
Calumet Sectional: This wonderful old gymnasium has two teams on opposite sides of the bracket aiming to get the Lombardi Trophy. Griffith on one side and Lighthouse on the other. Dustin Nelson has done a phenomenal job with the Panthers, while Tim Mays has a lot of talent.
Talent usually beats teamwork so I’m going to pick Lighthouse. Nervously.
Knox Sectional: Since I have a rooting interest in this one I won’t say much. Other than this is the most geographically dysfunctional sectional in Indiana. Two Lake County teams -- Hanover Central and River Forest -- along with Wheeler, which is almost in Lake, make the extremely long drive to Knox. It’s 95 miles, round trip, from Cedar Lake to Knox.
Kankakee Valley and Knox are the favorites, in that order.
Lake Central Sectional: This is tough, like trying to run the ball against the 49ers. Munster (19-5) opens against West Side, then would likely play Merrillville (15-9) in Game 2. While
Lake Central (14-10) must beat Highland and East Chicago to get to Saturday night.
The games will be tight and the crowd should be rocking. I will pick Munster, but it will not be easy. It never is in Sectional 1.
Portage Sectional: And this one is even tougher, like trying to stop the Chiefs from scoring in the fourth quarter. Six of the seven teams have 10 wins or more, but only Crown Point is 24-0. The second-ranked Bulldogs are the best team in the Region. Chris Seibert’s team is the one to beat and no one will be able to do it.
C.P. will get back to the semistate again, but I do not know if they can get over the Indy hump. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Like many other parents out there, I have a senior daughter playing her last sectional. Like all of you there is a sadness seeing it eventually end. So be filled with pride and joy -- no matter where all these girls are in the pecking order -- and cheer them all on this week.
It will be better than watching the commercials this past Sunday.
"So much talent emanating from one home. So much sadness, now, in one house."
CEDAR LAKE -- Junior varsity basketball games are usually played in the shadows, when many of the fans are in the restroom or in the popcorn line awaiting the big kids on the 7 p.m. stage.
But last Saturday night at Hanover Central, something different occurred. It shined some light in a dark and confusing place.
HAMMOND -- On Monday morning Rob Gardner went to a parade in Hammond honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his national holiday.
But there was a lot more for the 28-year-old to celebrate as he has been selected to be the next football coach at Hammond High. This is pending Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Gardner, who has been an assistant at Morton since 2015, replaces Roosevelt Moore.
Moore has coached the Wildcats since 2014. Hammond had winning seasons in ‘14 and ‘15, going 10-2 in 2015, but the football program has struggled of late, going 0-18 the last two seasons.
The Chicago Bears and Region football were polar opposites this fall. The yin and yang is young men chewing on mouth pieces on the grid.
In August, all of Chicagoland was believing the hype that Da Bears were going to be shuffling to the Super Bowl. And, yes, the boys in blue and orange have played well the last month. But the concept of playing deep into January is done dead. Ancient history. Kaput in cleats.