EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Sports at their best are capable of transcending everyday life, allowing us to put aside our differences.
We saw an example of true sportsmanship when a Bishop Dwenger (Fort Wayne, Ind.) player pat a Central (Evansville, Ind.) opponent’s back in consolation immediately following the four-overtime Class 4A state championship.
“That one snapshot embodies who we hope these young men become not only in the moment they’re faced with but down the road,” Fort Wayne head coach Jason Garrett said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
The goodwill didn’t stop there. More than two months later, during the “good news” portion of Monday’s Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. meeting, it was announced Bishop Dwenger had given monetary donations to Central High School.
See, even after Fort Wayne won 16-10 in four thrilling overtimes back in November, the Saints didn’t feel fulfilled. They, too, read IndyStar sports columnist Gregg Doyel’s touching story about how homelessness, cancer and a killing marked Central’s state title bid days after the game.
That Central player on the ground, Rayzel Joiner, and his teammate Malcolm DePriest had been through more adversity than the heartbreaking loss. They’d each been homeless during the season, Doyel noted.
“We felt it was the right thing to do,” Bishop Dwenger athletics director John Bennett said. “We won. We’re happy and we’re all feeling good about that. But then when you read that article, you felt like there was a hole there that needed filled.”
Garrett said he couldn’t finish the story because he felt so inspired and moved. He met with Bennett and the school’s development director to see what they could do to help those Bears seniors.
Bishop Dwenger linebacker Tavehon “T.J.” McGarry had received the Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award, which is a $1,000 scholarship presented by the Indianapolis Colts to the school in his name. He graciously offered half his scholarship to Central.
Dwenger then pooled money from its spirit shop and received a pair of private donations to raise $2,000 total. The school didn’t inform Central in advance. It simply notified the EVSC that a gift was on its way.
“We certainly appreciate the generous spirit of a team coming from the opposite end of the state for them to reach out and want to support some of our players,” EVSC spokesman Jason Woebkenberg said.
The donation was made in the players’ names with suggestions on how to help their needs. Central absolutely appreciates it.
Dwenger also invited Joiner and DePriest — plus coach Troy Burgess and the teammates who had taken in the players — to join the Saints when all the state championship winning teams were honored at halftime of the Dec. 23 Colts-Giants game at Lucas Oil Stadium. They, however, were unable to attend.
The 4A championship was the longest in IHSAA state history and marked the first to be decided after the second overtime (neither team had scored up to that point). Each team also had ample opportunities to win, which is perhaps why the Saints were so compassionate.
“This really speaks to the true spirit of athletics that something like this can result from such a historic, hard-fought state championship game,” Woebkenberg said.
Fort Wayne and Evansville are roughly 300 miles (five hours by car) away from each other. The cities’ respective high schools essentially only face off in state championships.
Dwenger’s noble act of kindness should serve as a reminder of what high school athletics represent.