CEDAR LAKE | Donald Nelson walked to the middle of the gym floor on Jan. 11 and sat directly in the middle of the two cheering sections.
The 41-year-old Portage man did not want one shoe string or a part of his winter coat to be leaning more to Wheeler's or Hanover Central's side.
His two younger brothers – Hanover's Doug Nelson and Wheeler's Dustin Nelson – had their girls basketball teams competing.
On Tuesday night in Cedar Lake, Donnie could not be at the Class 3A Hanover Central Sectional opener, where Dustin's Bearcats battled Knox in the opener of Indiana's most geographically disfunctional sectionals, bar none.
Donnie has battled Spina Bifida his entire life. Not easy. Not easy at all. Two weeks ago he had a kidney transplant. The staples will not be taken out until Monday, so no hoops.
That doesn't mean his heartbeat wasn't celebrated.
“You know, people throw around the word hero all the time,” Doug Nelson said. “Donnie is my hero. He's been through more than most people, but he always stays positive.
“Well, he's a Nelson so he does have his grumpy moments.”
Merel Nelson, the father of Doug and Dustin, fought to let Donnie play Little League baseball when he was a lad. He had to fight it at a national level. The operating manager for Valparaiso University athletics won.
Donnie once caught a fly ball hit straight at him in right field. All with a soul rejoiced.
Merel said his wife, Debbie, is the brick of the family. She stayed home with Donnie. Almost everyone in the family coaches. Something.
Debbie said she could not count the number of games she's seen in her life.
“I am so proud of my boys,” she said on the phone. “They are very close, it goes way beyond being brothers.”
Both Nelsons reached 100 wins this season. Dustin has won three sectionals in his career, Doug has won three at Hanover. Both have won a regional.
With Knox's 40-28 win over the Bearcats, Dustin's season ended.
“I'm very proud of my brother, he's never stopped fighting,” Dustin said. “He has affected the man that I am. I'm an educator and a coach. People come to me every day with issues and he's helped me to value relationships more.”
Parent's and family's dreams hit the hardwood as the 39th IHSAA girls basketball tournament tipped off on Tuesday. All the practices, all the long drives to games, all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches pointed toward walking up a ladder on Saturday night.
That is a great and lofty aspiration. But it is not the most important thing.
“My girls played hard, they never quit,” Dustin said. “They worked hard every day, together, to get better and they did. That's what this is all about.”