COACHES CORNER: Win or lose, memories are made the week of state finals

The DeKalb Barons celebrate their semi state victory over Lowell on November 18, 1994 that earned them a trip to the state finals at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

It was 1994, my family had just moved from St. Louis to Auburn.

It was a little bit of an adjustment, but we were now back around family in Auburn and Angola. I grew up playing Ascension league baseball and soccer year-round.

Moving to Auburn, you became immersed in DeKalb football. I had never been to a football game in my life other than watching the Greatest Show on Turf on television. That 1994 DeKalb team went 13-1 and traveled to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. I was 11 years old then and vividly still remember the feelings after the night did not fall the Barons’ way with a 35-0 loss to a fantastic East Central squad.

While the pre-teen feelings of angst still reside somewhere deep in my subconscious, what I remember isn’t the game or the loss, but the emotions associated with the event of “Going to State.”

Dave Schlemmer led the team bus down I-69 on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle named, “Head Rocket,” fully clad in all-black leather and helmet with a DeKalb flag flying off the back.

The community had sold out every regular-season game; kids played everywhere around the stadium on Friday nights; all the businesses downtown had windows painted. I remember the buzz surrounding the whole experience, and I idolized my cousin Logan Kempf, a tight end/defensive end on that team.

That experience is what set off a life-long journey playing the game I had come to love. I went from the pasty kid from St. Louis who played travel soccer and baseball year-round to the crazy ginger wanting to lambaste people on the field.

As I digress, a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium (RIP RCA Dome) is more than the game itself. It’s the buy-in, the pride, the memories and the experience that a football brotherhood provides its family and community. The cyclical involvement celebrated between the community and team is the ultimate honor of competing to be the best.

The state game experience means so much to those who have an intimate relationship with the team. But what about the team that partakes in the game? Unfortunately, I never earned that experience in high school; few players and coaches do. However, those who can make have merited memories for a lifetime.

I was able to ask Coach Kyle Lindsay (Bishop Luers), Coach Grant Moser (South Adams) and Coach Luke Amstutz (East Noble) about their recent experiences and what their goals are going into the weekend.

The purpose of our conversations was simple; tell us what experiences and takeaways you want from the game for all those involved.

East Noble traveled down to Lucas Oil Stadium a year ago. It fell to a great Evansville Memorial team after a magical season. Even though they didn’t leave with a blue ribbon, the experience was still memorable.

When it came to takeaways for his players, Amstutz stated, “being there as a team; seeing sites, eating the food, it’s a whirlwind, but all of a positive part of the experience.”

It was an honor for his players and program to affirm their hard work and commitment by playing in the game. “Being there… builds equity in the community, doing it right, knowing we are on that level.”

The game is an affidavit for all involved with the program, including the extended family. Amstutz received emails, thank you cards, heard stories from alumni, heard from strangers about how the program provided a source of pride and extended family for the East Noble community.

“It was a big family party,” Amstutz said.

East Noble senior Brooks Miller pumps up the crowd during the first half of November 30, 2019’s Class 4A state title game against Evansville Memorial. Miller had his fourth interception of the season during the first half.

These connections are precisely what community-based athletics provide, a source of pride. When it is successful because of a bottom to top community effort, you get the big family party! As it is a “badge of honor,” as Amstutz stated, to all of those involved.

For South Adams and Bishop Luers making the trip in the tumultuous 2020 season, they have outlasted the challenges and overcame. As this article is being finalized, they should be making the trip down to Indianapolis to partake in one of the most significant days in many individuals’ lives.

When I asked each coach what they wanted their players to take away from the day, their answers were similar.

Coach Moser was focused on his players being thankful; “I want them to take a moment to look around, soak it in, and just be thankful.  Thankful that we even are playing football this year.  Thankful that this opportunity has presented itself.  Thankful for their teammates that worked so hard for one another to give us the ability to make it to Lucas Oil Stadium.”

Coach Lindsay was on board about creating unique memories by concentrating on the adventure. He stated, “I want the kids to enjoy the experience of the entire week as it is one they will never forget. I also want them to cherish the time they have spent together and the obstacles they have overcome as a team.”

The takeaway from the coaches for the players? Appreciation and experience.

What about the community? The brotherhood plays and coaches the game. The community surrounding those gentlemen have a strong vested interest. What do Lindsay and Moser want for that extended family?

Coach Lindsay discussed how it was a culmination of hard work for all team members from players to school and community members. In his words, “It’s truly a unique group who’ve held their heads up and done everything asked of them to compete and have fun with one another throughout the season. For the community, a return to state is an awesome experience. It also brings back fond memories of past alums and former players. It’s a storytelling week for many!”

Coach Moser, well, he had some answering to do. He had to answer almost 200 text messages after last Friday’s game. Similar to Coach Amstutz, he spoke of a community that decorated the town in banners of support. He had many offers of assistance from so many places in Berne. Moser highlighted that “something about being from a small community where everyone knows everyone that makes something like a trip to state so much more special.”

Going to state. Making it to the “Luke.” Earning a ring and getting the ribbon and everlasting post-game team picture. The community party. All events that happen because men play a game.

During this Coaches Corner season, we have spoken about how the game is bigger than all of us. Those involved know the power of football. The Thanksgiving weekend slate of games amplify that energy for those involved. It is validation for the countless years of dedication to a team and group of friends.

The trip to Indianapolis is an affirmation of beliefs and processes. Those who are a part of the extended family who may have donated monetarily or donated time feel a source of pride as part of that success. You could have cooked a team meal, attended a game and cheered, or most importantly, just supported the public school in your community. All of those involved get to be a part of an experience that is more than just a game, but a family by choice party that creates memories and stories for generations.

We all have and share our Uncle Rico-Napoleon Dynamite stories because we all know that, “[if] coach woulda put me in the fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all. To all our Outside the Huddle readers making the trip to Indy to celebrate South Adams and Bishop Luers this weekend, we are rooting for you!

Yours in the Pursuit of Excellence,

Pete Kempf

Coaches Corner is a periodic feature at Outside the Huddle written by Pete Kempf, former DeKalb High School head football coach. Coaches Corner appears during the prep football season. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. 

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