There were a lot of mixed emotions in the Munster football huddle on Oct. 6, 2017 — pain, sorrow, grit and sullen joy.
The Mustangs played a great defensive game at Hobart that night, beating the Brickies 7-0. But coach Leroy Marsh wasn't on Munster's sidelines at kickoff that night. He'd been away from the program for several awful days.
He showed up at halftime, with wife, Jamie, on his arm.
After the win, the Mustangs stormed down the field to embrace him, show him love and give honor where it is do.
"We told him we loved him and that we were there for him and his family," senior linebacker Jonah Clark said.
Senior defensive lineman Jacob Fitch continued the story.
"We all wanted to embrace him and show him the love we have for him," he said.
"It was good for us to come together as a team and pay back because he gives us everything he has," sophomore linebacker and fullback Michael Dywan added.
Three days before Hobart game, unlike any other in Marsh's 39 years on the sidelines, his sister, Twila, died suddenly, unexpectedly. Tragically.
The 58-year-old librarian at Munster High School had a smile that lit up the night. I saw many times.
"It was the only thing that got me through the first week," said Marsh, speaking of the texts and phone calls he got from his players and coaching staff.
For almost ever the older generations seem to mock and belittle the younger ones because of this or that. But what these young men at Munster have done the last few weeks lets us all know the future is just fine.
Marsh knows this. And the rest of us should, too.
"Anytime you go through any grieving the only thing that helps you survive is the cheering up of other people," Marsh said. "My team and my coaches have been super through a very difficult time."
The Marsh family has been through more than most. Their son, Ryan, fought through a lifetime of physical ailments before passing too young in 1997. Leroy's other son, Chris, suffered through the death of his wife, Monica, a short time ago.
Then, last November both of Leroy's parents — Seigle and Jack — died just a few days apart.
And now Twila, who has led Munster's Toy Roundup, which gives presents to the underprivileged throughout the Region during the holidays.
"I've been through a lot of tragedy in my career," Marsh said quietly.
The end of life sucks. It faces us all. In my own family right now we're dealing with a painful situation. Without faith and love from others it would all be hopeless. But thankfully it isn't, even when we won't understand it all.
"I was speechless," Fitch said of hearing of Twila's passing. "I saw her every day in the library with a smiling face. And it hit me, I wouldn't be seeing her anymore."
Football pales in comparison to real life and the blind-side hits we all take from time to time. Marsh missed about eight days of practice and games taking care of family matters. But he returned to the field in Week 9 when his Mustangs beat Kankakee Valley 28-21, the team's first back-to-back wins this season.
Tonight, Munster will host Michigan City in the Class 5A Sectional 9 semifinal. It will be the first time Marsh and his team will be home since Twila's death.
While the Wolves are heavy favorites in this game, Munster will give all that it has with a ton of emotion. That is a lock.
"The Hobart win was real emotional, it was a surreal feeling seeing coach there," Dywan said. "He's like a second father to me. It was the highlight of the year when we saw him. I wanted to hug him and Jaime. Their a tough family."
"It was tough for me, too, I was close to her," Clark said. "It was tough for the whole team. We took it very serious. We wanted to use this as a reason to work harder, for coach and his family.
"They are loved."
Yes, they are. Indeed.
I hope the entire Region keeps the Marsh family in our prayers. These folks have been so good to so many in their lives.