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Inspirational end to hoops season

This is the week we all start pulling for the underdog.
Starting tomorrow (Thursday), the NCAA basketball tournament will encompass our everyday sports-loving lives. Remotes will be flipping constantly from one of four channels, likely looking for that upset while tracking scores.
That’s the fun of sports: underdog stories and adversity.
On March 9, if you weren’t rooting for an underdog story, you likely were wearing the orange and blue of Silver Creek (side note: I understand rivals in blue and white may not have been pulling for Corydon Central).
Hosting the Class 3A boys’ basketball sectional, the 2014-15 season was expected to possibly be a sterling year for Corydon Central.
Pre-season, the Panthers were No. 5 in the basketball poll. They reached No. 3 when they took on talent-laden New Albany in November, a 77-63 win by the Bulldogs. The same Bulldogs nearly pulled off a huge upset last week at the Seymour Regional, falling in the final moments to Evansville Reitz, a team that averages 90-plus points per outing.
A little over a month later with back-to-back PSC Holiday Championship trophies added to the hardware, the unimaginable happened to the Panthers’ program.
At Salem, just past the midway point of the season, Corydon Central lost big man Bronson Kessinger for the season with a broken leg and wrist.
The news shocked and saddened not only the local community, but many throughout the state.
The first half of the season, Kessinger was as explosive as ever. I brought my father along with me to the game at New Albany and, when Kessinger leaped for a put-back dunk, stretching his arms out wide to catch the ball first, he was impressed.
Those moments continued. As Montrezl Harrell surpassed the dunk record at Louisville with great authority, Kessinger threw down enough slams to easily set the mark at Corydon Central (if it is part of the program’s statistics).
When I drove home from Elizabeth on Jan. 23 after covering South Central’s tough homecoming loss to Crothersville, my poor phone blew up with messages and voice mails once cell service came into play.
The news was devastating, but Corydon Central coach Jamie Kolkmeier wasn’t about to let his team stop from keeping its team goals in place.
Against Paoli, the first game after Kessinger’s surgery, was one of the most inspiring games witnessed. Assist after assist and 11 3-pointers went down the hoops for Corydon Central. Paoli could only sit back and watch the Panthers roll them (a Rams’ team with a 10-5 record at the time) as Corydon Central triumphed 85-37.
Kessinger made an appearance at the game, to a standing ovation from the home crowd. The wheelchair he was in didn’t stay under him long. One month after suffering a compound fracture and with a rod and screws inserted in his left leg, Kessinger walked across the floor during senior night versus South Central.
Although Corydon Central lost its next two games, to Silver Creek and Bedford North Lawrence, the dedication by the Panthers’ players was still there. All nine seniors, including Kessinger, rallied around one another.
It became obvious, as a spectator, that Kessinger hadn’t given up either. He was up to hug each senior as they came off the floor against South Central. Against Silver Creek in the regular season, Kessinger was cheering wildly when Timothy Wiseman hit a 3-pointer to get the Panthers close late in a game they would eventually lose.
Turn to sectional and Kessinger was in the middle. Kolkmeier said the future Indiana State Sycamore would be an extra coach on the bench. He wasn’t lying.
Before each sectional game, Kessinger huddled the team to share words of inspiration. Although hobbled, he, like the Corydon Central team, wanted that sectional.
On Corydon Central’s opening night, when an under-the-weather Wiseman hit a game-winner, the celebration on the opposite end of the court drew not only the bench to mob Wiseman, but also Kessinger.
I don’t think he thought once about screws, rods or grabbing his crutch from the student section; he wanted to slap hands and bear hug Wiseman with everyone else.
Corydon Central’s season, however, ended two games later at the hands of Silver Creek. A year prior, Silver Creek caught fire and shocked the Panthers in the sectional. This year, there seemed to be added fight in the Panthers, who made the Dragons earn it.
Rivals in several sports, the respect for the Corydon Central boys’ basketball program was evident by the opponent. Late in the game, Corydon Central’s Quinton Coffman ran blindside into a stiff screen set by Silver Creek’s Jake Steele. Coffman hit the deck, but the first to reach out his hand was Steele. A true sign of sportsmanship. Wiseman rushed over, too, offering his apologies for leaving his fellow guard hanging.
There was a standing ovation from a massive crowd at Corydon Central directed to the home team before the final horn sounded. It even overtook the loud Silver Creek student section.
Plenty of respect and admiration for the veteran Corydon Central basketball team could be found this season. Although there won’t be a banner hung for a conference or sectional title, those who follow the team leave with lasting memories of what sports are about.
The senior group ‘ Jay Brent, Ryan Crawford, Mitchell Frederick, Dillion Simler, Tyler Stauth, Noah Woods, Coffman, Kessinger and Wiseman ‘ stuck around after the game ended to show respect to the Dragons while receiving the runner-up game ball.
All nine of them didn’t stray far from an arms length of one another.
Maybe the underdog after Kessinger’s injury, Corydon Central didn’t fold. Some seemed to work even harder.
It would have been easy to fold up the lawn chair and head on to the spring season. That didn’t happen. The Panthers faced adversity and still showed up in the gym and became even more of a team.
Props to the Corydon Central coaching staff and players for not giving in. A sectional or conference title would have been the perfect story, but fighting through adversity they faced is tough to put into words. How many teams lose a Division I player at the 3A level and continue its march to a 17-8 record?
It took a great bit of courage and hard work, but, in the inspirational record book, the Panthers were undefeated.

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