TURES COLUMN: A moving ending to a fantastic sports series

Published 9:30 am Thursday, June 9, 2022

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Have you ever seen a sports movie or TV show where there’s a moment that just stands tall, where the final score seems irrelevant, or even who won or lost just doesn’t matter as much as the moment? It’s the kind of event which makes you wish we’d see more of that, not just on the field or court, but in our daily lives as well, a spirit of sportsmanship.

Those who attended the super-regionals of the NCAA Division III last month got a taste of one of those scenes, where something mattered more than the performance on the field.

LaGrange College had won several baseball conference titles in a row, but would always just barely miss out on advancing past regionals. This year was supposed to be different. The team fielded some of its best hitters, best pitchers, and best defense, with one of the top records in our school’s history.  It had to be the year. The Panthers took their bracket of the conference, then the conference championship.

But tragedy struck; a deadly car crash took three promising young lives, two freshman pitchers integral to the team’s success, and a local resident who spent the day with his loving family.

I told several students about a basketball team when I was in college, who lost their team captain and leading scorer and rebounder to a tragic on-court medical malady. But the plucky Loyola-Marymount Lions shocked all by making the Elite Eight, ousting the defending title holders, and winning several upsets before finally succumbing to the eventual champions.

LC’s baseball team defeated Centenary in the regionals, finally getting over the hump. But in the Super-Regionals, they faced a school ten times their size, who had won two World Series trophies, one recently, located in Orange County, California. It really was David vs. Goliath.  Thankfully there was a David Kelton, the LC manager, to lead the team.

Each of the three games was a close affair, with little more than a run separating both teams in the games. But when LaGrange at long last upset their foes from Chapman College in a thrilling conclusion to the game, the usual dogpile and celebration began.

Then it stopped, almost as suddenly as it started. LaGrange College players and coaches brought out the jerseys from their departed teammates, as a hush fell over the stadium. All of them knelt around the mound in silent prayer.

What happened next, I’ll never forget. The Chapman coaches and players shook off the loss and came out of their dugout, and knelt along the LaGrange Panthers team and coaches, also in silent prayer.  It was one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen.  Every parent, professor, staff, administrator, and local fan couldn’t help but be moved by the experience.

LaGrange College went on to play well in the World Series in Iowa, beating my alma mater twice by double-digit runs, before eventually falling to the larger East Connecticut State University team. But anyone who followed the team will remember that iconic moment of prayer, tribute, and demonstrating the kind of sportsmanship we’d like to see from college kids.