Remembering that sound

By Roger Grossman
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — When I was a kid and the dream of being a play-by-play broadcaster was still just a dream, the biggest motivation for me was the quest to “bring” people inside the gym or to the football field who couldn’t be there in person.

I wanted them to hear the roar of the crowd and make them feel like their voice was included in generating it.

In the winter of 2003-2004, I had several chances to do exactly that.

The Warsaw Lady Tiger Basketball team was poised to have a great season, and the whole state knew it.

They started the year as the top-ranked team in 4A. Their hopes of a state championship were not wishful thinking. They had everything they needed to win.

But it didn’t start that great.

They opened at Tippecanoe Valley and lost. Valley earned that win with gritty play and Rebekah Parker, who was the best player on that court that night (and most courts on most nights).

The very next night, Warsaw won their second game but lost starter Mallory Hepler to a torn ACL.

That, friends, is the definition of adversity.

But that first win was followed by 15 others without a loss.

They went on to win seven championships that season.

You read that right … seven championships.

They won the Lady Tiger Tournament, the Hall of Fame Tournament and the Northern Lakes Conference Holiday Tournament in a span of 10 days. By the time they got to the Plymouth game in the NLC tournament championship, they were running only on the energy of the chemistry that grew from the shortcomings of previous seasons and their current adversities.

They needed each other, and they knew it would take all of them doing exactly what the team needed them to do.

They had a star in Jaclyn Leininger, who would go on to be names Miss Basketball. No one disputed her talent or her place on the team.

They had a natural-born leader in Michelle DeGeeter, who was named the winner of the Pat Roy award at the state finals.

They had sharp shooters, selfless blue-collar workers, a precocious freshman point guard who played much “older” than most ninth graders, and bench players that filled the gap in their fallen teammate’s absence.

And they were led by a head coach, Will Wienhorst, who was willing to make some significant adjustments to his complex schematic approach to fit the group of girls standing in front of him.

They won the Northern Lakes Conference regular season championship and did so by an average of 17 points per game.

After losing to a team from suburban Chicago in the big city on Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend, the Lady Tigers ran off 5 straight wins to end the regular season, then won the sectional at home and the regional at Huntington North with wins over sixth-ranked Kokomo and No. 10 Huntington North (who was coached by Jon Lippe—yep, the Jon Lippe that many of you know from his time as a principal in the Warsaw and
Manchester school districts) to reach the semi-state, which would be on their own home court in front of their own home crowd.

There were two semi-states in the Tiger Den that final Saturday in February. The first game came down to the final shot. The nets were cut down and pictures taken, the floor swept and the scoreboard reset.

And then it happened.

The Lady Tigers appeared in the corner of the gym, and everyone who had been sitting in their orange tie-die t- shirts stood as an orchestra raises their instruments when the conductor raises their baton.

The buzzer sounded, and the girls ran onto the floor.

I cannot describe with words the sound that followed. I remember not even trying to speak over it. I do not know to this day whether I was shaking because I was excited and nervous about the game and doing a good job on the broadcast, whether the gym was shaking underneath my feet or whether the sound that had come pouring out of the lungs of those in attendance was pressing against my chest.

Either way, it was a moving experience and one that was only matched by what would happen almost two hours later when Warsaw grabbed the final rebound in overtime and the clock ran out.

No one heard the buzzer. No one needed to. Twenty years later, those Lady Tigers are coming home. Warsaw athletics is celebrating the 20th anniversary of that terrific season.

There is a reunion scheduled for Saturday afternoon, then the 2004 team will be honored following the JV game with a special presentation that the current Lady Tigers have been working on.

It will be a special night. The game itself should draw a big crowd because Northridge and Warsaw are playing for the lead in the Northern Lakes Conference.

I hope you will make your way to the Tiger Den to show your appreciation for these women for not just what they did 20 years ago, but for the quality wives and mothers and successful people they have become.

And to hear that roar one more time.