GUEST COLUMN: Work can wait for Carroll group with eyes on a state finals appearance

Members of the Rudolph family pose for a picture following a Carroll game earlier this season. (Photo provided)

Black Friday.

Those two words cause anxiety and panic amongst even the most seasoned of retail vets when spoken aloud. I cannot believe that we are less than two weeks away from that dreaded day for those of us who call retail a career.

Friday, November 25 will mark the 11th time I have worked on a Black Friday (my third in a management role) for a major sporting goods store here in Fort Wayne. It is a day (and frankly now, a weekend) in which it is a requirement, not a request, that all available employees are ready to work long hours to provide great customer service to hoards of shoppers that have come to expect it at a store like ours.

However, this year is different for one major reason. For the first time in my management role, I am hoping to be six employees short on that Friday!

We all know how challenging times have been over the last few years with Covid, supply chain issues, inflation and the inability to find good help, especially in a job like mine where it takes so many people to run a store of our size. You would think I would want as many available bodies ready to work that day. While I do, there is a much bigger reason I’d rather not have them available to work.

The reason I DON’T want those six employees in our store on Black Friday is not due to their lack of skill or work ethic. Quite the opposite, in fact. Those six exemplify everything you’d want in people that work for you – trustworthy, kind-hearted, hard-working and reliable. No, it’s not that I don’t want them there shoulder to shoulder with me on that day, it’s the fact I want them to be somewhere far away from me. I want them to be in Indianapolis!

The six I’m referencing all tie in directly to Carroll’s football program. They make my daily life a little easier when I am at work, and I am grateful for all of them. Jordan Rudolph and her fiancé Brandon Jencks are the behind-the-scenes backbone of our store. They coordinate our truck process and all the daily work it takes to make our store a success. They are truly irreplaceable and undoubtedly reliable, yet do not demand an ounce of credit for the incredible work they do.

It should come as no surprise that Jordan’s father, Joe Rudolph, coordinates Class 6A’s most fearsome defense as he is the defensive coordinator at Carroll. He is not a coordinator that gets a lot of press as some coordinators often do in the area, but let me assure you, what he does works and his scheme is sound. Carroll swarms you defensively, it is disciplined, tough, physical and is incredibly consistent showing up week in and week out – a true tribute to Coach Rudolph. Most importantly, they are reliable, as are his daughter and future son-in-law.

Joe’s son Cooper is the third person I don’t want working that day. A sure-handed senior receiver for the Chargers, Cooper isn’t going to burn you with his speed, but he’s always going to be there when quarterback Jimmy Sullivan needs him. Another “Reliable Rudolph.” Cooper, like so many other Carroll students, participates in its ICE program (Interdisciplinary Cooperative Education), which allows students to complete classes in the morning and then go work in the real world in the afternoon. He is never late, he never complains, he is a high school kid that I consider a “go to” for me when I need an online order pulled or a customer taken care of. I see why Sullivan trusts him so much, because I do as well.

Starting safety Jorge Valdes, starting linebacker Solomon Oduma, and key “do it all” defensive player Julian Ridderheim I don’t want to see you that weekend either! All three of the aforementioned student athletes exemplify Carroll football. They conduct themselves the right way at all times on the job and are all good at what they do. I look at their maturity level and the way they carry themselves in our store and I only wish I had a tenth of that self awareness when I was their age. The trio anchor that vaunted Carroll defense and clean up play after play on Friday nights, and they help me clean up my messes I need taken care of during the week. All seniors in high school, I am amazed at their ability to balance education and work and then perform the way they do on Fridays. It speaks to their character as young men and the lessons I’m sure are being instilled by Coach Doug Dinan in the program.

With all the land mines that is the SAC and the daunting task of running the table in 6A, so far Carroll has done just that. A mere two steps away from the ultimate goal – a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium and a chance to compete for a state championship in undoubtedly Indiana’s most challenging class.

That 6A championship game falls on Friday November 25th….Black Friday. To Principal Cleve Million, Athletic Director Dan Ginder, Coach Dinan and the Carroll community, while I am beyond grateful for those six, I don’t want them in our building on that day. I want to instead watch your program succeed on Indiana’s grandest stage under our state’s brightest lights. I want them to enjoy being kids and the feeling theyget playing for the ultimate goal one last time.

You have the rest of your lives to work, and while being a half-dozen employees short on the busiest retail day of the year is challenging, I promise we can handle it. You six are appreciated for all you do and your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed! I will have your back that weekend, just as you six have had mine everyday I walk into work.

The author Kevin Merz is a former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.

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