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.