I like to surround myself with positive people.
Following our local sports lends itself to few and far between championships, so you know we have to be getting thick-skinned about losing along the way. Don’t get me going on the economic impact of high school football in Iowa.
Photographing Holy Trinity’s run through another state volleyball tournament opened my eyes to many things this year. Yeah, we’ve all been there and done that, but these people in cobalt blue t-shirts are some of the most positive people I’ve met.
I hung around with many of them prior to Tuesday's, Wednesday's, and Thursday’s matches and the mood was always one of excitement. They’ve been here before and done that, too. But the pitch of energy is high every night.
Despite getting swept in the finals by Ankeny Christian and the tears that come with it, there was a very positive message – from a lady who’s almost camouflaged on the sideline.
Karen Becker has been on the sidelines for HTC volleyball for more than two decades, and her husband Darrell was always tucked away about four rows up in the home stands.
Darrell died unexpectedly on Sept. 13 from a massive heart attack. Karen was returning from work and found him on the floor unresponsive.
One might think the last place in the world she would want to be is in the one place that reminds her so much of her husband.
But she wouldn’t be anywhere else.“He loved these girls and he loved this program,” Becker said of her husband.
“My husband was the ultimate fan as far as any team here. If a team was having a rough season, he was there to cheer them up. He would say 'I don’t have any kids involved, but I’m at these games for the kids whose parents couldn’t make it'. If parents had to work late or were called away, he made it a point to talk to those kids.”
That sentiment wasn’t lost on the Crusaders, especially the seniors, who throughout the playoffs, huddled with Karen Becker on the sidelines following each win. It was an opportunity to honor her husband’s memory, one that was most likely shared in the moments following the win.
After Thursday’s loss, it was no different. A group huddle and blessing for things to come.
Becker helps track stats and scoring at all the HTC volleyball games. She’s also a teacher’s associate in the school’s system. This is a senior class she’s known since they were in kindergarten.
Throughout the IGHSAU tournament this year, Karen sat on the sidelines with a smile on her face. Celebrating the wins… and then framing the loss to the Eagles with a look to the future.
“These kids have their whole lives in front of them. This loss is a lesson for sure but it’s part of life’s journey for all of them. I wanted them to know that. Darrell would want them to know that. They are all wonderful girls and students and now they need to look ahead,” she said.
Becker walked through the girls with smiles and hugs following the loss in the IGHSAU Class 1A championship. If tears came from Becker, they were hidden well behind the distinctive white hair the surrounds her face.
Becker said after the Crusaders' loss Thursday that this year has been as tough a year as one would imagine after losing a husband. They had plans after the volleyball season.
“We’ve been planning on me retiring in May and then traveling together. He loved to travel. Then that day I just came home and he was gone. Nothing anybody could do or could have done,” she said.
After a very long season and her tragedy, this woman still hollers encouragement to her Crusaders – a sentiment not lost on head coach Melissa Freesmeier.
“She’s our star, our superstar," Freesmeier said wiping tears from her cheeks. “She knows these girls better than anyone and has been there for them for a long time. It’s been a very hard year for her and a difficult year for the girls. But she’s a star. And we’re not who we are without her.”
Sitting with Becker following Thursday’s loss. She carried the same sweet smile and a twinkle in her eye that clearly was where she carried Darrell.
“There were 122 teams in the state that started this at regionals. That’s about 1,850 girls. To end up being in the final 30 girls. That’s a huge accomplishment and they need to know that,” Becker said.
Next year Becker will be back sitting at the scorer’s table or on the bench again recording every assist, or dig, or kill, or attack. But that’s her job, not her passion. Her passion always comes at the end of the match.
The Crusaders may not have come back as champions, but they certainly brought back a champion, but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at Charles.V@PenCityCurrent.com.
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