People who have never been part of an athletic team may not have an appreciation for how deep the family aspect runs among players.
Brandon and Jeff Zimmerman know.
They’ve lived it.
They’ve had the blood, the sweat, the tears.
They’ve appreciated it.
Now, and in the last week, more than ever.
This past Friday, Brandon, Jeff and their brother Cameron were called away from school at approximately 9 in the morning, just hours before kickoff of their scheduled varsity football game at Hillsboro.
Their mother, Angela Bowen, had died that morning.
“They come back around 1:30 (p.m.) to tell me the news and say they don’t think they can play,” East Clinton football coach Steven Olds said.
The team would leave shortly after school for Highland County.
“I tell them not to worry about that right now,” Olds said. “We (the football team) will be here when they come back and to let us know if they need anything.”
The Zimmermans gathered with their football teammates — football family to be sure — and relayed the news of their mother.
“It was jarring to see how much it affected the rest of the team,” Olds said. “I think it’s obvious, even though they don’t always show it, these guys care about one another. At the end of the day you want your team to be like a family in that they support one another and pick one another up, and that is exactly what they did.”
As with most sports meetings among players, when done, they get together in a huddle, raise their hands and break with a word.
“Family,” Olds said, was the word on this day.
Then the Zimmermans left the school again.
“I believe they are not coming back,” Olds said.
Shortly thereafter, the bus gassed and ready, Olds received a phone call.
“They (the Zimmermans) want to come back and be with the team and want to try and play,” he said. “I wasn’t about to deny them that.”
The East Clinton season, once at 0-3, is now trending upward with three wins in the last five games. But this decision was more than about football.
“My staff and I felt like being with their teammates might be the best thing for them at this time,” said Olds.
Donning their respective jerseys for the first time in honor of their mom, Brandon No. 82 and Jeff No. 52, the Zimmermans went out on the Richards Memorial Stadium turf in Hillsboro with the hopes of gathering their emotions in an orderly fashion and putting together some semblance of a game.
They did more than that as it turned out.
Brandon blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown to turn a potential 10-0 deficit into a 7-6 margin. Just a few plays later, Jeff recovered a Hillsboro fumble that led to an East Clinton touchdown and a 12-7 Astros advantage. EC won the game 28-7.
“I could not be more proud of Jeff and Brandon for how they handled themselves during this tough time,” the East Clinton coach said. “I was truly inspired by what they did and I know the team was as well. They didn’t just play, they played well. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Olds, an All-Ohio player during his days at East Clinton, wasn’t sure he could have pulled off what the Zimmermans did last Friday night.
“I don’t know if I could have done what they did,” he said. “They were so hurt just hours before the game and then they went out and played the way that they did. It was inspiring to say the least.”
The East Clinton football family was hurting. It responded in the way many families do when things aren’t going well.
”You know, I think Jeff and Brandon’s teammates helped prepare them more than anything,” said Olds. “The love and support they showered Jeff and Brandon with when they came back to tell us what had happened probably made it possible for them to come back later for the game. It reminded me of how the guys showed up at my own father’s visitation, as a team, last November. We have a good group of young men here and we are very proud of them.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports.