Walt Raines was supposed to have seen it all in his first 24 seasons as girls basketball coach at Franklin Community High School.
Turns out the stream of after-school practices, road trips and in excess of 500 pregame pep talks dating back to the fall of 1987 weren’t nearly enough to prepare Raines for the happenings of the past couple of months.
If ever bad fortune could be punctuated by a dose of unbelievable good luck, the Grizzly Cubs are it. Life’s bigger picture smiles right back at the coach and his players every time they see Sara VanDeman walking the hallways at school and in attendance for practices and games.
On Nov. 24, VanDeman, 17, was driving home to get ready for the school’s volleyball banquet that evening when a truck T-boned the driver’s side of her 1999 Mitsubishi Spyder Eclipse.
VanDeman had just begun to proceed south after stopping at a stop sign when the accident occurred.
“I remember looking left, looking right, and I started to go. Then I looked left again and saw lights at my door,” said VanDeman, a 5-foot-7 starting guard for the Cubs. “After that I don’t remember anything. I guess I was unconscious for seven minutes.”
VanDeman had to be cut out of her vehicle. She was taken by helicopter to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, suffering from a broken clavicle, two punctured lungs, a broken pelvis and bruising on the brain.
The following day she was listed in good condition and was out of the hospital by Nov. 28.
Talk to anyone who saw the mangled remains of VanDeman’s automobile and the words “lucky to be alive” are among the first spoken.
For Raines, who exactly two weeks earlier lost starting point guard and leading scorer Tara Parmer to a season-ending knee injury late in a 52-41 victory against Greenfield-Central, the days leading to Thanksgiving meant myriad emotions.
“Our sixth grandchild was born that day, and I was getting ready to leave school. I look at my cellphone, and it’s blowing up with text messages saying Sara VanDeman has been in a wreck and is being LifeLined to the hospital,” Raines said. “The night I found out for sure Tara’s injury would be season-ending, my wife could tell I was devastated. And that was before the news about Sara.
“It puts things in perspective in a hurry.”
Basketball, while important, takes a distant back seat to the game of life.
Parmer, a 5-4 junior, won’t be back this season. If and when VanDeman returns to play remains uncertain. Raines hopes she’s able to take the floor by senior day against Martinsville on Jan. 26; VanDeman wants it to be much earlier.
Even before the season began, Franklin was without senior guard Jayme Vance, who sustained a knee injury playing softball during the summer, and two junior players who elected not to come out for basketball this season.
Raines expects Vance to be playing again in January. Just maybe she’ll have company.
“Sara wants to be back right after Christmas,” Raines said. “Hopefully we can find a happy medium.”
VanDeman moved about at a deliberate pace at a recent Franklin practice. The scars on the tops of her hands are fading, but the pain caused by her internal injuries requires more time to heal. Her collarbone hurts, and her pelvis pops on occasion.
She also has experienced bad headaches during school hours because of an inability to focus for prolonged periods of time.
Franklin is 4-4 entering tonight’s game at Beech Grove. The Cubs are 1-2 since VanDeman’s accident and 2-4 since Parmer suffered her injury. Moreover, the upcoming schedule is brutal, with back-to-back home games against Class 4A No. 5 Greenwood and defending Class 3A state runner-up Mount Vernon (Fortville).
Fate has tested his program’s resolve in previously unknown ways, but Raines admires and appreciates how his players have responded.
“This group of kids has made the transition much easier. They just keep working hard and doing what they’re asked to do,” Raines said. “It’s a matter of us doing what we’re capable of and whatever happens is what happens.”