Jordan Chappell had a program with names likely circled, as players filed out of the locker room on Wednesday at Newman High School.
The former multi-sport standout at Rock Falls was enduring one of the less pleasant parts of her new job as an assistant coach to Jed Johnson for the Sauk Valley Skyhawks women’s basketball team. As a recruiter, she had to approach and talk to girls that had just lost their final high school basketball game.
“It’s going to be hard to talk to them while they’re crying,” Chappell said to me. “How do you guys do this all the time?”
It’s not an easy part of our job here at SVM, but it’s one we confront almost on a nightly basis when the calendar turns to February.
On Thursday night, I thought, “Why I am doing this?” as I hunkered over the steering wheel of my Grand Am, navigating the snowy, slick roads on my way to the 2A Byron Regional championship game.
My Grand Am has been a faithful, determined steed over the years, but it’s not equipped with a pair of skis to handle snowfall.
Visions of my car sliding off the road into the Rock River crossed my mind more than once as I scanned for the white line on my right and the yellow ones on my left.
More than anything, I was relieved putting the car into park at Byron High School. I was glad to make it and wondered if it was worth the trip.
For most of a quarter, I still wasn’t sold.
Then Oregon’s Sam Lambrigtsen swiped a steal near the end of the first and scored on the other end to finish a personal 4-0 run that brought the Hawks within four points of Byron.
“Oh, that was good,” I am pretty sure I said out loud. Not loud enough for the Rockford Lutheran girls basketball team, which was sitting two rows in front of me, to hear. I didn’t want to be known as that strange, balding man who talks to himself at a basketball game, after all.
The following three quarters turned into a battle of wills between two talented teams, determined to keep their seasons going.
I was wowed when McKaylee Beeter hit a deep 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to give the Hawks a five-point lead.
I was impressed as Byron’s Sophie Reecher, a senior who had as many tears in her eyes, despite the victory, as any Hawk afterward, took charge with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
The postseason is made for athletes like Reecher, Lambrigtsen, Beeter, and so on, who thrive when the stakes are the highest.
The postseason puts all the chips on the table. There is no tomorrow. There is no, “We’ll get them next time.”
The postseason is the game of life and, quite often, you see teenagers take a big step toward adulthood before your eyes.
They lose all the facade of the teenage persona and show you that they care. Whether it’s by storming the court in celebration, or in long, quiet embraces with friends and family in defeat.
So yes, it’s tough to interview crying athletes with broken hearts. But it is also good medicine for the doldrums of this profession.
For those few moments, we get a glimpse at the best of these kids and know, in losing, they’ve learned a lesson that can’t be replicated in a classroom.