Inspiration is big in sports, and it can be found in all kinds of places.
Some athletes write uplifting messages on their shoes as a way to keep their spirits high during competitions. Others feel supported by a special person from their lives when they wear that person's initials on their uniforms or point to the sky before shooting free throws.
Coaches often partake in their own forms of deeply personal symbolism.
For first-year Warren coach Ryan Webber, his source of inspiration is hard to miss.
Before every game, he slips a gold ring on his finger that is adorned with a very large black stone.
By wearing the ring, he keeps his father-in-law Jim Arthur near.
"My father-in-law was a great guy, one of the coolest and most fun people I know and we were very close," Webber said. "He passed away in 2006 and my mother-in-law gave me this ring of his that he picked up while he was in the Air Force. He was a retired pilot and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This ring was really special to my father-in-law because it kind of symbolizes toughness. The black stone has this gold line down the middle so it looks like a tiger eye."
When Webber first received the ring, he was a 25-year-old up-and-coming head coach at Byron who was convinced that he could use an "eye-of-the-tiger" toughness as he tried to prove himself.
"There's pressure anyway in this job, and it just seems like you're always adding even more pressure to yourself when you're young and just starting out," Webber said. "I always had these nervous feelings before games and I remember putting on that ring and it was really comforting. My father-in-law was always such a big supporter of mine and he'd go to a lot of my games. It made me feel good to know that he could still be a part of them."
Webber won 51 games in two years at Byron and has worn the ring ever since. He wears it only for games, though.
So far, the Blue Devils have had nine games this season. And Webber, who is still getting to know all of his players, has been a little surprised by the reaction to the ring.
"Nobody's even asked me about it," Webber said with a laugh. "But our guys have a lot of other things to think about right now."
The Blue Devils seem to be adjusting to Webber and his new system fairly well. They enter the weekend with a 6-3 record, which includes big wins over New Trier and Stevenson.
"It's going pretty well," Webber said of the transition. "But as a new coach with a new system, I kind of feel like I'm always walking this fine line between how much time we're working on us and how much time we're preparing for the next opponent. The teams around here are so good that you've got to put in that time. But we also have some things of our own that we have to keep improving. We're getting there, though."
Not so bad:
Warren guard Arthel Rosquist has driven the lane hundreds of times.
But when he did so in the first half of last week's game against Mundelein, he landed in a way that he never has before. And it didn't look good.
"He suffered a severe ankle injury. We think he stepped on someone's foot," Warren coach Ryan Webber said. "There's a lot of swelling and it's pretty ugly."
Luckily for Rosquist, his prognosis is much easier on the eyes … and the psyche.
Initially, it was feared that Rosquist broke his ankle, and he was put into a soft cast. But doctors then determined that the injury was just a serious sprain and that he could possibly be back into the rotation by Christmas if he diligent with his icing and biking.
Rosquist has started four of Warren's nine games.
"It will be good for us to get Arthel back," Webber said. "He gives us some attitude on defense. He leads the team with about 13 charges taken and he's just really energetic."
In the meantime, Webber will be looking for even more leadership and production out of senior point guard Aarias Austin and junior forward Adrian Deere. Austin had 20 points and 6 assists in the Mundelein game and Deere is averaging about 16 points per game.
Good from bad:
On the one hand, Grant's 73-72 North Suburban Prairie Division loss to Wauconda last week was devastating.
But on the other, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that the 4-4 Bulldogs were able to get a pair of harrowing overtime wins in the their next two games.
They beat Prairie Ridge by a point and Highland Park by 4 points.
"We had our opportunities to put Wauconda away but we allowed them to hang around and make it a ball game late," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "We had a long chat in the locker room after that about what we want out of this season and when we were done, it was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The bus ride home was the same way. No one said a word. I've never seen anything like it.
"I think our guys really took that loss hard and it really made them think."
It made them ready to work, too.
Bosworth wasn't quite prepared for what he would witness over the next two days of practice.
"The guys came back and had their best two practices of the year," Bosworth said. "They were going hard, they were pushing each other and holding each other accountable. And it was everyone, starters, backups, seniors, younger kids.
"That loss on Tuesday probably helped us win those next two games because we really worked hard to bounce back."
Slowly but surely, Grant senior forward Keion Miller is seeing his playing time increase.
In fact, he's also moved up in the rotation.
Miller began the season as the Bulldogs' first player off the bench. Thanks to his relentless presence on the boards, he's now got a spot in the starting lineup.
"Be ready, because by January or February, Keion is going to be doing really great things," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "He's really come a long way in the last week or so and he just keeps getting better and better. I've been so impressed with how he's playing.
"He's just so athletic and he's quick and he can really get up for those rebounds. The rest of his game is getting smoother and he's gaining confidence, too."
Miller is averaging about 7 points per game, but has scored in double-figures in the Bulldogs' last two games. He's also been among the team's leading rebounders.
"Keion is going to be a special player for us," Bosworth said. "The other nice thing is that we've got a lot of young kids and as a senior, he's also showing some really good leadership."
Next time, the players at Grayslake North will know to bring popcorn and a cool drink to their film session.
They will need the sustenance.
After all, one of their most recent replays of a game lasted much longer than the game itself.
It happed a couple of weeks ago, the morning after the Knights got crushed by Cary-Grove by 16 points.
"We were an hour and 15 minutes into it and we hadn't even gotten through the first quarter yet," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "There was that much to go through. But we have a lot of young kids on our team this year and watching those kinds of things and going over them was great for them."
Listening to the veterans' reactions probably also made a lasting impression with the new guys.
"Some of our seniors, like AJ Fish and Nick Carmody and Danny Mateling, definitely weren't perfect in that game and it was nice to see them owning up to the things they can work on and improve. I think it's important for young guys to see that, too."
Perhaps there could be more marathon film sessions in the future for the Knights.
Since their last one, they pushed a talented Lakes team to the limit before succumbing by just 3 points (57-54) and they blew out Antioch on Tuesday, 64-35.