All season long, the Center Grove football script had Hollywood written all over it.
An unexpected plot twist, though, made this ending less than satisfying.
Tyler Genneken’s team is not going to the Class 6A state championship game.
The Trojan team that overachieved in a season dedicated to the memory of their fallen classmate came up a play short.
This moment stings. As especially shown in the faces of Center Grove seniors after a 12-7 semistate loss to Warren Central, it just wasn’t supposed to end this way.
But it did.
Life isn’t always fair, and it doesn’t always turn out the way you hope, no matter how hard you want it.
As much as that hurts for a team that had state title hopes in a season that seemed magically destined, they know better.
Tyler taught them that when he passed away in a moment that was so much more unfair than any football game could ever be.
“Our hearts were heavy all year,” coach Eric Moore said of his team, which had pointed to this moment as a memorial to their friend.
Through it all, Genneken’s spirit stayed with them — this special group of Trojans — every step of this special season.
Sure, the rules may say only eleven players are allowed on the field at a time, but a 12th man was in the Center Grove huddle all year.
Genneken was there on every snap, his spirit stronger than ever.
Center Grove players have literally carried his memory on the field in what would have been his senior season.
No. 12 might have passed away in 8th grade from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but he is every bit a member of this team.
Whether it was the Trojan co-captains carrying his jersey to every pregame meeting at midfield, buddy Lane Morris pointing a finger to the sky with every touchdown, or a dozen other little thoughts and gestures, Genneken was there.
Look on the Center Grove roster, and there was his name, one of 29 seniors.
And today, he is still there, helping to put this loss in perspective.
“This isn’t the worst thing that is going to happen in your life,” Moore said. “Hopefully this will prepare you for things that happen. Great character will always see you through. These kids have great character.”
That character shined all season.
It is not uncommon for sports teams to remember a friend who was taken too young. We often commemorate the time with special ribbons or bracelets or signs.
Genneken’s case was more than a simple remembrance though. It was a movement. “#12MenStrong” was a rallying cry and Twitter hashtag that bound this group together and captured the entire Center Grove community.
Not just a gesture, it was a commitment from Genneken’s friends that took on extraordinary meaning since his passing in any number of tangible ways.
“You can wear a shirt or a hat or lanyard and say something about Tyler, but none of it is permanent,” said Morris a year ago after he, Logan Hutson and Trevor Vance got tattoos in a permanent remembrance of their friend. “Tyler is a lasting mark in my heart, and I wanted something that would be there forever.”
It is deeply personal for these young men, but it also is about giving back in ways that honor Genneken and keep his memory fresh.
After their regional win on a recent Friday night and an early Saturday morning practice that followed, most tired football players would have kicked back and relaxed. Not these guys. Instead, Trojan players were at the Center Grove Bantam Football fields by noon to help with an annual youth tournament in Genneken’s honor. That event has brought in thousands in research funding and potential marrow donors.
Eight hours later, on a Saturday night when most teenagers would be more focused on their social life, they were still there, helping with concessions, emptying trash cans and doing whatever it took to make the charity event a success.
“Character like that is not a common trait in teenage boys,” one Center Grove mother tweeted after the event in a thought echoed throughout this community. “That is why I will always have a soft spot for the 2013 Center Grove Trojans.”
The character is not common, and its achievement is a special victory.
This year was something special.
“You go to war with righteousness on your side, a community at your back, and an angel on your shoulder,” Tyler’s father, Drew, told the Trojans via Twitter before the game.
This run had the feel of destiny. This team — Tyler’s team — expected to be here in his senior season.
It wasn’t to be.
As Tyler showed, life is not always fair, even when what you seek is so noble.
Center Grove players will turn in their jerseys a game short of where their journey might have ended. But they have gained something far more important than a trophy. They carry the spirit of a friend whose body has long since departed, but whose soul remains in the heart of this remarkable team.
Sometimes you wonder, through all the jerseys and tributes and special moments, were his teammates carrying Tyler? Or was it the other way around?
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.