By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – In the arena of competition, on the court, course, field or diamond, conference rivalries highlight the fierce nature of conflict. Nothing is more satisfying than conquering those closest and familiar.
The Hoosier Hills Conference captures that intensity. The eight-school league is widespread in terms of geography and the diversity of the communities they represent, yet within that framework the rivalries are heated, whether it’s the southern pocket of teams near the Ohio River or those located on the northern corridor along U.S. 50.
What do they have in common? Plenty, as the 78 student-athletes who participated in the first annual HHC Leadership Summit at Bedford North Lawrence learned during their interaction with their peers.
Sportsmanship and leadership were the key issues as all eight athletic directors invited athletes from their respective programs to discuss these topics and listen to a wide range of guest speakers. The central message was clear: it’s hard to hate someone you like.
In this era of off-season travel teams, in virtually every sport, the fraternization with the “enemy” has often started at an early age. Friendships are formed before the high school jerseys are worn. It makes balancing the thirst for victory and the quest for family peace a unique experience.
“You definitely get the rival feel, but you realize they are actually really good people,” said BNL’s Haley Deckard, one of nine Stars to participate in the summit. “You want to beat them, but they’re working just as hard as you. And they want to be a leader, just like you.”
The summit was fashioned after the IHSAA’s recent initiative to promote sportsmanship in a campaign sponsored by Ivy Tech: the #faceofsportsmanship hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, the television commercials during state finals webcasts, the lessons in citizenship being taught.
IHSAA assistant commissioner Sandra Walter was the main guest speaker, while current college athletes and officials also conducted forums and answered questions.
“It was a day full of good information, a lot of good discussion,” BNL athletic director Jeff Callahan said. “The IHSAA has a sportsmanship program that we’ve all adopted, and they encourage schools to promote sportsmanship throughout the school and the conference.
“There are some real rivalries within the conference, so it’s good to listen to what the kids had to say. When you look at it, we want to compete and win on the floor, court or pool, but in the big picture there’s more to high school athletics than winning or losing. That’s what most people focus on, but there’s a lot of lessons learned.”
The topics were serious enough to bring young people together on a July morning, and they listened intently, hoping to take knowledge back to their teammates, coaches and school communities. The college athletes impressed BNL runner Cooper Holmes.
“Making friendships is important, because if we end up on the same college team, we can’t be bitter toward each other once we’re there,” Holmes said, and that statement can be extrapolated into life experiences after school. “It’s pretty important, especially for the new groups coming in. It’s important for the seniors to show the younger guys what it’s like to show sportsmanship, so they can do it for generations to come.
“It was pretty cool. It was cool to be invited, to be considered a leader, to hear what it means to be a leader of a team.”
Holmes and Deckard were joined by Luke Allender, Whitt Callahan, Aden Pemberton, Andrew Swenson, Carly Kern, Katherine West and Merritt Callahan in the BNL contingent. Their job is to help evaluate the gleaned information, discuss it with their peers, and set the example for the coming 2019-20 seasons – and beyond.
“You always hear what players have to say, but hearing it from the other side was really cool,” Deckard said. “It’s always being respectful. They’re human, too, they’re going to mess up, they’re just like you. So you have to respect everyone.”