By Chris Chaney
Oftentimes sports act as a respite for the rigors of “real life.” However, for the coaching staff of the UC Clermont Lady Cougars following their Division II United State Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship on Saturday, March 8, a “real life” run-in following the game helped them to keep their accomplishment in perspective.
Following the Lady Cougars’ 69-51 win over Central Maine, head coach Mike Matthews, along with his assistant coaches Ken Lowe and Rick Hosea, were planning to revel in the victory over a few adult beverages in the hotel tavern before a few unexpected visitors joined their table.
“We were looking forward to going down (to the hotel bar) to rehash the game, enjoy the win and enjoy what our girls did and talk about it all, but we didn’t really get to do that,” Matthews explained. “As soon as we sat down, this girl (with Down syndrome) sat down at the table with us. I have a relative in my family who has Down’s — my brother-in-law’s daughter — so we’re really familiar with the experiences of parents of children with Down syndrome.
“(Maddi) sat down with a glass of water and just started talking to us about the game because she was there. We ended up talking to her until her mother had to take her back because it was getting late. She was so happy to be talking with us and asked about the medals around our neck and we told her (we got them for winning the championship). She thought that was really neat and (Ken Lowe) took his off and gave it to her as a gift for coming to the game.”
Matthews explained how excited Maddi was to receive the medal and her parents were very appreciative.
He said that once Maddi left them, the realization of what was truly meaningful was beginning to set in on the group.
But another reality check pulled up a chair at the table soon after Maddi had to leave.
“Right away, a soldier and his wife at the bar turned around and came over and sat down with us,” Matthews said. “He was an injured vet and was there as part of (the Wounded Warrior Project).
“He had inadvertently stepped on a bomb trying to (retrieve the body) of one of his fellow soldiers. When the went to get the body, it was on a bomb and the bomb went off. I believe it killed a couple of his friends and blew half of him up. He was only 24.
“They were talking about the hassles of all the surgeries and while it was great that we won the national championship in basketball, in the grand scheme of life, this reminded us that there are things that are much more important.”
Matthews said he and his coaches were humbled by their experience and it gave them a more balanced perspective about what they had just accomplished.
“We thought we were going to spend the evening talking about the game, but we were able to spend it with this soldier and his wife,” Matthews said. “We thought, ‘there will be other days that we can talk about the game.’ It just brought the reality of sports (into perspective).
“There are some things that are more important than playing sports and we found two of them (that night). It immediately brought the real world back into our face. We just sat back and enjoyed that part of it.
“It was a good feeling to make those people feel good because we were truly interested in them, but it’s just how life is. You think about if that was your son who’s representing us and he got seriously injured. That’s serious business. And to think about us winning a national championship, that pales in comparison.”
Matthews said that he and his assistants have had time since winning the championship two weeks ago to rehash the game and go over the highlights that they originally planned to do that evening. But to have that experience that night in the hotel bar with Maddi and the wounded warrior, the coaches were able to put the accomplishment in its proper place in the pantheon of life.