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?