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.