INDIANAPOLIS – Dean Tate held it together as long as he could. First and foremost, those free throws – 13 in the fourth quarter, 13 with just one miss as Warren Central was rallying past Carmel in the Class 4A boys championship game on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He also buried a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, a catch-and-shoot beauty that gave the Warriors a lead they’d never give back, not with Tate hitting all those free throws to clinch this 54-48 Warren Central victory.
Point being, he kept his composure on the foul line. And then afterward, when the clock hit zero and the Warren Central crowd hit the bonkers button to celebrate this perfect 32-0 season, Dean Tate held it together some more. While everyone else on the team looked various stages of thrilled, Tate seemed stunned. Like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.
But he kept it together as he received his state championship medal and walked across the raised platform, holding the medal in both hands, staring down at it, turning it over and over as his teammates joined him up there. Kept it together even as he put his hands together in prayer and stared into the Warren Central crowd.
Then came the team pictures, and Tate played it cool. Teammate David Bell, with those great receiver’s hands that will take him to the NFL someday, he was holding the state championship trophy. No way was the 5-8, 165-pound Tate going to get it out of his hands. So he asked for the basketball, the game ball, the one he’d used to score a game-high 22 points, one more than the 21 he’d scored at semistate as Warren Central held off New Albany and Romeo Langford. Forevermore, when Warren Central students study that picture in the trophy case, Dean Tate will be the one holding the ball in his hands and the medal in his teeth.
Next, Mama. While teammates are posing for pictures with cheerleaders and smacking hands with classmates, Tate is climbing into the crowd to hug his mom. And Coy Tate, her hair pulled just so beautifully to the side, she’s crying. But not Dean Tate. Nope, he’s keeping it together as he lets go of his mom and makes his way down the front row of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, hugging Aunt Danita and cousins and friends and …
Now he sees her. And this, well, this is going to be hard. No, you know what? This is going to be impossible. Because Dean Tate is walking over to his grandmother, Pamela Elliott — he calls her Gam — and not even trying anymore. He buries his head into Gam’s shoulder and starts quaking.
“That’s all right,” Gam coos into his ear. “That’s all right.”
And then she says something else, something that has Dean Tate shaking so hard, you’d think he was freezing, not crying. This is what his Gam tells him, right there in the front row at Bankers Life Fieldhouse while the Warren Central Warriors are celebrating their state championship:
“They’re celebrating in heaven.”
And tiny Dean Tate, he falls to pieces.