The Highlight Reel
I played basketball for Cloverdale Christian School, a small Mennonite school with about 30 students.
My siblings and I are not Mennonite, but the school district we were in would have required an hour and half bus ride both ways to school every morning, and that just wasn’t cool.
I grew a lot in my time at Cloverdale as a person, a basketball player and a follower of Jesus. Despite the differences of denominational views, my siblings and I thrived at the school, and with the addition of my brother Jonathan, the basketball program thrived.
Jonathan was a leader in every sense of the word. He was one who went first. He was confident in his play because he practiced year-round. He wasn’t afraid to take control of a game. He trusted his teammates. He motived them, and they respected him. We respected him. I respected him. I may not have practiced as much as he instructed, but I respected the effort he put into improving himself.
I remember very little about our first tournament of the year, except that as a sixth-man freshman, I played better than I would play all my next three years. The reason? I simply played better when Jonathan was on the court. I thrived on his presence and seemed to have no lack of energy.
We took third place at that tournament, and Jonathan and I both made all-tournament team. It’s something I’ll never forget.
About a month later, we played our last three games of the season at the Granite City tournament in St. Cloud. We came to the tournament having won the previous year’s championship and favorites to win again.
We would win the first two games handedly, and the freshman were already talking about being champions. Jonathan was not. At halftime, we trailed 38-18. Our offense was in shambles, and our defense couldn’t make a stop to save our lives. Our coach Rick Rhodes wasn’t much for speeches. I only remember him asking one question.
“Do you want to win?”
Jonathan did, and just as we were walking onto the court to begin the second half, our assistant coach Bob Ellis pulled Jonathan aside and said, “Get the ball. Don’t pass - just shoot. You take every shot for the rest of the game.”
I don’t have access to our stat sheet for that game, but I imagine Jonathan scored 90 percent of our second-half points, and was the assistor of the other 10 percent. Still, with three minutes to play, we trailed by 11.
After a final timeout, our team called 1-2-3-HEART. It’s what we always chanted, and it told every fan and opponent that our team never gave up. We left everything on that court.
The clock ticked down. 2:59-2:58-2:57...
Jonathan stole the ball, sprinted down the court, stopped at the three-point line and swish – down by eight. Pressing, we stole the ball again. Pass to Jonathan – swish – down by five. We played back on defense. Jonathan stole the ball and again pulled up for a wide-open three-point shot -swish – down by two.
Less than a minute remained. Again Jonathan stole the ball. Anticipating this, I’d made a break for the other end, and firing a bullet pass past two defenders, he put the tying layup in my hands. Backboard-in. Tie game.
Our opponents called time-out. I have no idea what our coach said. My heart was pounding, ears ringing with mad cheering from our fans. 1-2-3-HEART. We got in our 2-3 defense. They inbounded the ball, passed it down low, shot, missed. Peter Hoppe rebounded and passed to Robin Yoder. Covered tightly, Robin held on to the ball, hoping for the buzzer to send us to an unthinkable overtime.
“Robin!” Jonathan called out. Robin passed him the bal. Three seconds left. Two seconds. Jonathan pulled up at half-court. One second. Jonathan let go a perfect-arcing ball. Buzzer. The ball fell, hitting the backboard and falling beautifully through the net.
We’d won and chaos ensued.
My oldest brother, Jeremiah, who had been sitting at the top of the bleachers was somehow the first one to reach Jonathan. I have no idea how.
In the moment, I’m sure I was too exhilarated to fully grasp what had just happened, but that’s the beauty of highlights. You can go back to them over and over again – even if only in memory.
In the moment, I embraced fellow-freshman Kirby Yoder. We laughed and cried, jumping and hugging in disbelief. A scene we would repeat at our next championship as seniors.
But looking back, I mostly remember Jonathan. I remember how hard he’d practiced every summer throughout high school. I remember him overcoming a terrible sprained ankle mid-way through the season and playing through it. I remember the way he led, and the way he trusted his little brother to make the tying shot. I remember him shooting the buzzer shot, and I think he knew it was going in.
I miss playing basketball with Jonathan. It was a privilege playing with him. It is still a privilege being his brother.
When Jonathan left after his senior year, along with all the other seniors, our team took a major hit. It wasn’t until we freshman were seniors that our team was back to that caliber of play. But although Jonathan was 200 miles away at college, he’d never really left. As Kirby and I took over as captains, Jonathan’s confidence became mine (at least in part). I tried to lead the way he’d led, practice with the intentionality he’d had and compete with the heart he’d given.
Dec. 7 of this month will be my last day with the Steele County Times, and the Dec. 8 issue my last column and stories. After that, I will be leaving with my family for a position in Oregon.
As I complete final stories, pack boxes and change my address, my biggest hope is that I never really leave Steele County. I hope the lessons in this column have impacted people. I hope the excellence I have strived for in my sports coverage has set a bar. I hope the conversations I have had will make a difference.
The thing about leaving is that it is constantly happening. If a student doesn’t transfer, they will most likely leave high school after four years. They will leave college after four years, and, statically, they will leave their job after four years. We are constantly leaving things.
The question is rarely, “Will I leave?” The real question is, “What do I choose to leave behind?”