FORT WAYNE | Nearby, the Fort Wayne Dwenger Saints were jumping up and down, screaming about advancing to the Class 4A state championship game.
But E.C. Central coach Stacy Adams would not be out-shouted. He gathered his Cardinals together and had a few words for the world to hear.
“Keep your head up,” Adams said. “You've had a fantastic year. Yeah!”
In this current age where many believe that winners are all that matter and everyone else is a chump, you're wrong. Dead wrong.
The biggest winner at Zollner Stadium wasn't Dwenger, who won 38-0. It was a group of guys from East Chicago who made it this far. If Dwenger wins state next weekend, it won't be as big as what E.C. did.
Not even close.
The seniors, all 28 of them, gathered at the left goal line. Some were on their hands and knees weeping. Again, Adams screamed loud enough for all to take in.
“Lock up. Arm and arm. Grab your brother.”
They started walking. Surely thinking about a listless 5-5 campaign when they were freshman. Their feet slugged through the mud, the conditions that Martayveus Carter said was difficult to get traction in. The 7-4 sophomore season surely drifted through their minds.
Tears were streaming down every cheek at midfield, where memories of 9-2 junior year were recalled. Then, in the end zone more emotions erupted.
A Dwenger assistant coach saw this and said, “Wow. That is neat.”
The players turned around and did one last 100 yards together, arm-in-arm, step by step. When they got to the other end zone they huddled, one more time.
The history book is now closed. A school-record 11-3 mark. The school's first sectional championship. The same for the regional.
Six fan buses made the miserable drive down U.S. 30 to the game, probably 700 fans. E.C. athletic director Trino Cavazos had nothing but pride talking about his student-athletes.
“Let me start with, 'Wow,'” Cavazos said. “To feel the energy in the building, in the community, for a football team and a traditional basketball town, it's amazing. I am so damn proud of them.
“This coaching staff has put a map out there of what this school accomplished.”
Back in August, The Times wrote about the concept of Urban Renewal. It is difficult for city schools to have great success in a system and format that is more suburban.
But the 2013 E.C. Central Cardinals showed, proved, it can be done.
“We've had some ups and downs,” Carter said, with tears freezing on his face. “We started at the bottom. We worked hard. We put our school on the map. We're not a basketball school anymore.
“We never quit.”
E.C. fought hard in the second half. The Cards hit. They blocked. They gave everything they had. Sometimes the guy on the other side is just better. That's life.
Most were moved watching the “Brothers in Arms” moment after the game. I know I was.
“These guys accomplished what a lot of people didn't think they could do and I love them for that,” Adams said.
On this night what the scoreboard said didn't mean a damn thing.