Wednesday should have been one of those feel good days at Larkin High School.
The Royals' boys basketball team should have been getting high-fives from classmates, then gone off to practice to get ready for Friday's regional championship game.
Instead, it was uniform turn-in day.
This is one of those stories that comes, to teenagers, with that age-old disclaimer of "Someday you'll understand and thank me for this."
Tuesday night, in the regional semifinals against South Elgin at St. Charles North, Larkin coach Deryn Carter made the exceptionally tough decision to suspend his team's leading scorer, Kendale McCullum, for a violation of team rules. Carter told the Daily Herald's Jerry Fitzpatrick after the game it was the toughest decision he's had to make as a coach.
This is not to take anything away from South Elgin for pulling out a thrilling 71-70 overtime upset against the top-seeded Royals. The Storm deserve to be in Friday's championship game.
But with McCullum in the lineup and all things equal, the odds would have been in Larkin's favor to win Tuesday's game.
It would have been easy enough for Carter to take the high road and sit his star for a quarter (or less). Some coaches would have.
But Deryn Carter doesn't operate that way. Since he took over the Larkin program five years ago one of his staples has become class and discipline. He holds his student-athletes accountable for their actions and expects them to act a cut above the rest.
And that's what he did Tuesday night.
Carter, remember, is a Larkin grad and one of the best players to ever wear the blue and white. His family has its roots in Elgin and all of the Carters have a deep sense of pride for Larkin athletics. It's a family I'm proud to call friends, people I've known since Deryn's sisters, Katy and Corry, were winning Big League softball state championships with their parents coaching them some 25 years ago.
The values Deryn Carter, who played and coached at the college level before coming back home, has formed as an adult, as a teacher, and as a basketball coach, had their foundation laid many many years ago by his dad and mom, Deryl and Marlene, and they are as rock-solid a set of values as you'll find anywhere.
So trust me, the decision Deryn made Tuesday night to sit his star player was not an easy one. On top of everything else I know about Deryn and the Carter family, I know how competitive they are and how much they hate to lose.
But I also know that they do not have the "win at all cost" mentality. Never have, never will.
What the Carters do have is morals and class, and Deryn proved that again Tuesday night. In this day and age of our society only caring who won or lost, and a basketball landscape that this season has been tainted by the Homewood-Flossmoor and Curie scandals, and now by a minute-long brawl between players and fans after Tuesday's Rockford East-Rockford Jefferson regional game at Belvidere North, it is refreshing to know that right here in Elgin we have a coach who does not put winning above all else. A coach who holds his STUDENT-athletes accountable for the decisions they make, both on and off the court.
In the end, one basketball game makes little difference in the grand scheme of life. Larkin will have more opportunities to win games, win regionals, go downstate -- because that's the direction Carter has the program moving in. Tuesday's loss also doesn't diminish an outstanding season, one in which Larkin won its second-straight Upstate Eight River title and became the first team in the 51-year history of the program to win a conference title undefeated.
But when a coach has a chance to send a message about following rules, about being accountable for decisions, and a chance to be consistent in the way they deal with situations such as these, that coach also has an obligation to do and be those things. Hopefully the message Carter sent was clear and understood: Follow the rules or suffer the consequences. Period.
Larkin High School is fortunate to have a man of such high moral standards in charge of its boys basketball program.
And Deryn Carter has every reason to hold his head high and know that he made the right decision.
We only hope all the student-athletes at Larkin and elsewhere understand that as well.
Maybe they should have listened then: The IHSA's new multiplier/waiver policy, which comes with a Success Advancement clause that, in effect, moves non-boundaried schools up in class based on their state tournament success, is not a new concept.
In fact, in 2005 I wrote about Matt Unger, 15 at the time and a student at St. Francis in Wheaton, when he proposed what, basically, the IHSA has now adopted.
Take a read of Unger's proposal at this link http://www.bcrnews.com/2005/04/21/st-francis-student-takes-on-the-ihsa/asi1llf/sports4.txt?__xsl=/print.xsl and then compare it to the IHSA's new policy at this link http://ihsa.org/NewsMedia/Announcements/tabid/93/ID/383/IHSA-Board-Approves-Multiplier-Waiver-Changes-Adds-Success-Advancement-Component. aspx.
Awfully similar, aren't they?
JUCO tourney at ECC: If you need a basketball fix this weekend, the Region IV men's and women's tournament championships will be held at the Elgin Community College Events Center on Saturday. Women's games will be played at noon and 12:30 p.m. with men's games at 5 and 7:30. Women's teams from Kankakee, Moraine Valley, Kishwaukee and Waubonsee, along with men's teams from Carl Sandburg, Olive Harvey, Triton and South Suhurban, will compete for berths at the NJCAA National Tournament.