He sat at the end of the bench, lost amidst a sea of rarely-used reserves and managers.
He was surprisingly quiet, but looked tired and worn.
He never called a girl over or asked an official about a call or even gave a suggestion or two to interim head coach Kara Ankenbruck.
He just sat…and watched.
A few weeks ago, Homestead coach Rod Parker was diagnosed with cancer. On Saturday, he watched the team he has developed into a perennial state contender win its fourth SAC Holiday Tournament championship in five tries with a 52-43 victory over South Side at Wayne High School.
It was a lowkey appearance for Parker, who is not expected to take back over the reigns of the Spartans until at least mid-January. But it meant a lot to a team that has played well under Ankenbruck, but still misses its leader.
Homestead had moments throughout the three-day tournament that it looked less than impressive. It let Bishop Luers hang around in Saturday morning’s semifinal matchup for way too long. In the final, South Side’s athleticism and the play of sophomore Olivia Smith kept the Spartans from running away as they have done against league opponents so many other times before.
Yet in the end, both the veterans and newcomers made plays. Sydney Graber followed up a solid semifinal with a 17-point, nine-rebound performance in the championship. Senior guard Grace Sullivan hit some big shots, while Ayanna Patterson, the super sophomore, emerged in the second half in huge moments.
He wasn’t in his traditional coaching spot, but Homestead still looked and felt like Coach Parker’s team in its run to another tournament title. It played the way he has taught for years, working the ball around the offense and attacking at the slightest mistake a defender makes. The Spartans shrugged off South Side’s efforts at pressing Homestead into mistakes, making it look easy at times breaking the Archers’ vaunted defense.
Also exciting was seeing the stars of tomorrow shine when it mattered. Freshman Alison Stephens showed her promise with some solid contributions in the victory, as well as sophomore Maggie Keinsley.
And what can you say about Rylie Parker? Just a few weeks ago, she was with her father at the hospital as he underwent six hours of surgery for his cancer treatment. With her dad’s blessing post-op, she headed to practice in an attempt to keep some normalcy. The senior finished with just three points in Saturday night’s win, but having her father back on the bench had to have meant the world to her.
We were all hit with a giant dose of reality and dread when we heard about Coach Parker’s diagnosis. He is one of the great coaches in our area, and has the personality and friendliness behind the scenes that goes undervalued at times. To see him on Saturday night was not just a boost to Homestead’s spirits, but all of us who follow prep basketball in northeast Indiana.
As his team celebrated with another SAC Holiday Tournament championship, you could see that this one meant a little more because of what the roster has been through emotionally over the past few weeks.
With Coach Parker’s appearance at the final, we are all hoping he is on the mend and will be back soon leading a Spartans program that has his fingerprints all over it.
BOUNCE’S ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Sydney Graber, Homestead
Ayanna Patterson, Homestead
TiAuna White, Northrop
Jaci Jones, South Side
Olivia Smith, South Side
Rylie Parker, Homestead
Lydia Reimbold, Bishop Luers
Destiny Jackson, Northrop
Lamyia Woodson, South Side
Payton Gorman, Snider
Delaney Bailey, Bishop Luers
J’Asia Scott, Northrop
Grace Sullivan, Homestead
Jasmine Anderson, Carroll
Alaya Chapman, South Side