Abe Brown was in his classroom on Friday, Feb. 14. On this cold Valentine's Day, the boys basketball coach at E.C. Central searched the Internet for some local news.
He went to nwi.com and saw a breaking story. As he read the words a chill filled the room. When he finished the article he gasped, "Oh no."
At that moment the school's public address called for senior Ricky Readus to come to the office. Immediately.
E.C. football coach Stacy Adams rushed Readus to St. Catherine's Hospital, where he learned that his father had died.
"I was crushed, completely," Readus said. "It was like everything came down on me."
Howard Readus, a 59-year-old pastor at the East Chicago House of Prayer and father of five, died from multiple burns suffered when their home on Deal Street caught fire.
The Army vet had suffered an injury in the service and was forced to use a cane or wheelchair to move around.
He made some of his son's football games. Readus was a star on the Cardinals' team that advanced to the Class 4A Northern Semistate. Readus will take his football game to Siena Heights University in Michigan in the fall.
But the 6-foot-5 Readus was named Mr. Basketball by his classmates after the tragedy. It was a way his friends and community held out a hand of love to the heart-broken young man.
"I didn't think I deserved it," Readus said with a smile. "But it made me feel good. Happy. A lot of people in our city supported me."
Tonight, the 104th IHSAA boys basketball state tournament begins with 403 teams shooting to make a run to Indianapolis, where Bankers Life Fieldhouse will host the four class finals on March 29.
East Chicago will host a sectional again and the Cardinals will play West Side on Wednesday night. Readus will miss seeing his dad at the game. But he plans to play every moment with his father in his heart. And mind.
"My dad was a real good man," Readus said. "He had high morals. He lived a faithful life."
Readus is actually starting at center for the talent-rich Cardinals. In the team's biggest win of the season, 58-50 over Lake Central on Feb. 11, Readus gave L.C. big man Tyler Wideman everything he had.
"It took Ricky a little while to get his basketball legs, like the other football players," Brown said. "He's playing good basketball for us. He's given us a presence in the middle."
The loss of Readus' father has been painful for everyone associated with E.C. basketball.
"It was a sad day at practice," Brown said. "We prayed together as a team. A few of us went over to the house to be with him. A lot of people rallied around him.
"A lot of times you only hear about the negative in our city."
Brown said churches have donated time, food, basic life items and love to the family. Money has been raised to help the family.
Readus plans to play this week for his father, and much more.
"It's going to be fun to have the sectional at home," he said. "We want our big gym to be packed. We have a lot of fans who love basketball. I want to play for my father. I want him to be proud of me.
"And after that, he was a faithful man and I want to live the rest of my life like him."