February 16, 2013.
It’s two full weeks after Groundhog Day and two full days after Valentine’s Day. It was also the date when 42 young men celebrated the yearly achievement of claiming Iowa High School state wrestling championships.
I know that last fact about Feb. 16, 2013, because I was in Wells Fargo Arena watching as five area athletes try to be among the 42 select young men to play the star role in one of the state’s greatest yearly dramas. But aside from that, I can tell that for most of that Saturday, there wasn’t anything that made Feb. 16, 2013, stand out.
In 11 years covering Iowa prep sports for various media outlets, I’ve now been in Des Moines for the final day of the state wrestling tournament four times. Various memories stand out from each of those days.
What I’ll remember most about this final day of the state wrestling meet isn’t what I saw that night. It’s the words I spoke in the media room hours earlier.
I was sitting with our area photographer Terry Simmons and KTVO sports reporter Kamady Ray. The conversation turned to the Indian Hills basketball team, who that night carried a 25-2 record and the nation’s number-three ranking into West Burlington for a matchup at Southeastern.
“Do you think they (Indian Hills) can make it all the way to the national tournament?” Ray asked me.
“It would take something unbelievable to keep them out.”
It took 38 seconds for the unbelievable to happen.
In less then a minute, everything changed for the Indian Hills basketball team on Feb. 16, 2013. Less than a minute after scoring their 26th, and perhaps most impressive, win of the season, Warrior players and coaches found themselves in the middle of a wild postgame brawl.
And just like that, the destiny of one team was about to change drastically because of actions that took, overall, less than one minute.
“It seems like our whole world has been turned upside down since that night,” Indian Hills head basketball coach Barret Peery said.
The domino effect that followed the brawl left a final result nobody could have imagined on Feb. 16, 2013. In the midst of the brawl, Indian Hills sophomore Ronald Ross was arrested for assaulting Southeastern head coach Terry Carroll’s son Billy.
As a result, Ross was arrested and taken into Des Moines County Jail on a $1,000 bond. Doing what he thought he had to do as an administrator responsible for any student who leaves the campus for a student activity, Indian Hills President Jim Lindenmeyer posted the bail to allow Ross to return with the rest of the team and school officials back to the campus in Ottumwa.
Just a few days later, Lindenmeyer reported his actions to the NJCAA. Before a full week could pass, the NJCAA ruled the actions would make Indian Hills ineligible for postseason play.
Finally, just nine days after one of their biggest wins, IHCC officially learned it had suffered one of its biggest losses when the NJCAA rejected the school’s appeal. With that, hundreds of days of hard work by the players and coaches of the Indian Hills basketball team toward a unified goal of a national title came to an end on Monday, Feb. 25.
“We were sitting here as a coaching staff that night in the office after we had wiped back the tears, and I said to them we had probably worked 700 days to get to that Monday,” Peery recalled. “We had worked to build it and build it and built it to where we’d have a legitimate chance to win a national championship.”
In the end, there are no winners when it comes to this situation that developed from less than a minute of truly ugly behavior. Anyone that feels their side, Indian Hills or Southeastern, came out a winner in this truly doesn’t get it.
From Southeastern’s stanpoint, a postseason win and a berth in the regional final certainly didn’t come without controversy. Four Blackhawks were suspended for their roles in the brawl, the third straight year Southeastern has had to suspend players from postseason play, while the suspension of three fans has brought into question the safety measures in place to prevent another incident from occurring at Loren Walker Arena.
From Indian Hills’ stanpoint, two years of hard work by Jameel McKay, Dustin Hogue, Frank Williams, Trinson White, Ronnie Stevens, Gary Ross and Rawane Ndiaye ended in heartbreak with the postseason ban levied by the NJCAA. Ross, Richard Amardi and Jelan Kendrick also saw their opportunities to experience the joy of leading Indian Hills to meeting championship expectations lost because of a situation no matchup of rivals should ever end up in.
“It’s a true rivalry, so you have to expect some intensity,” Kendrick said of the rivalry. “The fans down there got a little rowdy, but we participated in it. I hate to pass up a chance to win a national championship, but if this is what has to happen, then it has to happen. It’s just a bad deal.”
“I just didn’t think there was much that could stop us. I didn’t think it would be hard to get the guys revved up for March,” Peery said.
March, instead, will come and go. Throughout college basketball, national champions will be crowned.
On Saturday, March 23, the National Junior College champion will be crowned in Hutchinson, Kan. It was the goal of 13 young men that that champion would be a team from Ottumwa donned in maroon and gold.
To lose that opportunity on the floor to another team would have been disappointing. To lose the opportunity off the floor like this, however, is truly unbelievable.
“I’ll never forget, from day one, Coach Peery telling us we had the chance to bring this town something it had never seen before in terms of excitement, swagger and confidence day in and day out,” Kendrick said. “I watched it grow and I watched it mature. I watched players bond together that I don’t think ever would have bonded together,” Kendrick said.
“I watched us gel and watched us peak right at the perfect team. Then, I watched it get swept away.”
Any views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views of the Ottumwa Courier. Got an item for the Scott Jackson’s Area Sports Notebook? Contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.