NEW CHICAGO | This week the stories and photographs will all be about Indiana's girls, the young ladies competing in the IHSAA's 38th annual girls basketball state championships.
This, for sure, is what it should be all about. And is.
But when you've been covering this tourney as long as the “kids” in Taco Bell's Super Bowl commercial, you see some other indelible visuals. (Well, if I have my bifocals on anyway.)
As much and as bad as the the ladies want to win a sectional championship, it is the moms and dads who are crying, screaming, jumping and contorting the most.
The ones who drove to practices, paid for gym shoes, bought McDonald's in strange lands and drove home while the gals slept, they are sometimes the ones who want the titles the most.
“I feel like the parents from the Super Bowl,” said Stanley Steele, the athletic director for Hammond Elite Athletics, speaking of how Jack and Jackie Harbaugh felt on Sunday night, when their sons, Jim and John coached against each other in New Orleans.
At the Class 2A River Forest Sectional, Steele's daughter, Kailynn Steele, is a standout freshman on Bowman Academy's team. The Eagles were facing Bishop Noll, where Brenda Pennington and Naomi House, are two above-the-fold freshmen for the Warriors.
While season and life dreams collided head-on inside Bill Logan's Gymnasium, the three Hammond girls are better than best friends.
“Win or lose — we are family,” said Melvin Pennington, Brenda's father, who coached with Steele at Hammond Elite Athletics. The three starred on last summer's AAU National Championship team, which won the title at the ESPN Zone in Florida.
All three ninth graders started for their respected teams. Their future is so bright I need shades for those bifocals.
The three started playing together in fifth grade. Pennington and Steele went to Eggers Middle School, while House went to Scott. Then, they all moved to the Hammond Academy charter school.
“The plan was for all three of them to stay there together,” Steele said, "but life doesn't always work out like you planned.”
The three families, well one in this case, found out too late that Hammond Academy hadn't applied to get into the IHSAA soon enough. So the girls had to split apart.
“That was hard,” said Ron Blevins, House's grandfather. “We all wanted to stay together.”
Bowman and Noll did not play each other in the regular season, so Tuesday night was the first time the Hoop Sisters faced each other in different colors.
The growth of these three young ladies is best expressed by family members.
“Our girls have been together for so long,” Stanley Steele said. “They are so close. Like sisters. Maybe even closer.”
Steele guarded House for much of the first half. All three had a couple of moments where they looked like first-year players. Sometimes their upside was like a flashlight.
Sometimes both things happened. In the second quarter Pennington banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key. She didn't call glass.
The relatives of Tuesday's fren-emies spoke more passionately about their collective love than school pride, but make no mistake about that.
“I want Bowman to win,” Mr. Steele said.
“I'm pulling for Bishop Noll, no doubt about it,” Mr. Pennington said.
“I have never seen a group of girls get along like these kids do,” Blevins said. “Win or lose, Hammond Elite comes out winners. Either way.”
From Angola to Zionsville, and every place in-between in Hoosierland, some teams won on Tuesday night. The other half lost. One girl's dream lived another day. Another's died.
Girls, on both sides of the great divide, give your parents a hug and say thanks. I'm sure a hug will come your way, too.
Maybe one more trip to Dairy Queen will result in such a thing.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.