Column: Line Drives — Talking after defeat is difficult

[This is my column in the Oct. 15 issue of The Commercial Review.]

“This is the hard one.”

That’s what I said to Jay County High School girls soccer coach Giles Laux moments after his Patriot squad lost to Yorktown in the sectional championship Saturday afternoon.

He had no words.

Hours later, again at Yorktown Sports Park, I stood between seniors Nathan Heitkamp and Colton Compton to speak with them about their heartbreaking defeat in penalty kicks to the Tigers in their sectional final.

“What’s going through your head right now?” I asked.

They had no words.

All three of them had to fight back emotion. Laux, whose team had won back-to-back sectional championships — Abby Champ coached it to the 2013 title — was able to hide behind his sunglasses. The others were not.

They just looked away.

Laux and I had to continue the interview a few minutes later.

While he cooled down, I chatted with his senior daughter, Emma Laux, who too was choked up during our conversation.

I’ve always said that I love my job. But moments like those are what make this gig the most difficult.

It’s always easy to talk to someone following an exciting victory. But in defeat, especially one that ends a season or a career, those are the hardest.
As a reporter, though, those conversations are beneficial. Adding emotion — sports are full of it, whether positive or negative — makes for a better story.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I had my first taste of such a conversation in February 2014 when I spoke with then-JCHS senior Eric Hemmelgarn following a disappointing fourth-place finish during the wrestling state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“Hemi” was calm, but no doubt frustrated with how his weekend had gone. But there was still a positive angle to it, as he became the school’s first three-time state medalist.

A year later I had the same conversation with Andy Kohler, a Patriot junior who was denied a wrestling state medal after losing in the opening round.

I even snapped a few pictures of Kohler, sitting on the floor outside the locker room with his head down, crying after the debilitating loss as coach Eric Myers and assistant coach Jeff Heller flanked him.

Taking those pictures aren’t easy either, but they’re necessary. They help set the scene — a high school wrestler whose season just ended and he’s away in a corner, expressing emotion.

I kept my distance, but Kohler knew what was inevitable. He would have to speak about what just happened. When we talked, I could hear in his voice the emotion.

Long pauses. Short answers. Frustration. Disappointment.

Long pauses because he was thinking of what to say. Short answers because he wasn’t able to find the right words. Frustration because he knew he could have done better. Disappointment because his season ended without a place on the podium.

In June I had a conversation with Derek Backs, a Fort Recovery senior who struck out to end the Division IV state semifinal baseball game. We were leaned up against the brick wall outside of Huntington Park in Columbus, talking about the called third strike, the game as a whole and the painful loss to end an otherwise dream season.

As expected, he was crying. It didn’t make the interaction any easier.

On Oct. 2 I was leaned up against a wall at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel spearking with South Adams senior Sydney Willis after the IHSAA girls golf state finals.

The senior had a spectacular season, winning all but two matches she had competed in. At the state finals, however, she simply wasn’t able to get into a groove and posted the two worst rounds of her senior campaign.

There we were in the clubhouse near the front door chatting about the previous two days. She spoke through tears.

Fast-forward to Saturday and the three conversations I had with the Lauxes and the senior boys.

Both teams overcame adversity, whether battling injuries or other off-the-pitch issues, and were trending upward to another sectional title. But as the games progressed, that possibility slipped away.

I had to know what they were thinking and what they were feeling. The stories needed that depth.

I’ve found most aspects of my career to be rather enjoyable. Like every job, though, there are portions that are downright horrible.

Speaking with someone after their season or career has come to an end while they fight back tears is tough. At that moment I’m sure they’d rather be anywhere other than talking to me.

I’m sure it’s not fun to be the athlete who has to talk to a reporter after a disheartening defeat.

Trust me when I say there’s no joy in being on the other side of that conversation either.

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