By Lesley Weidenbener
Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor, The Statehouse File
INDIANAPOLIS – Congratulations are in order for four young men who last month won the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award at the state high school basketball finals.
Michael Lynch of Borden High School, Austin Karazsia of Linton-Stockton High, Thomas Starks of Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, and Michael Volovic of Carmel earned an honor that has been handed out by the Indiana High School Athletic Association under one name or another since 1917.
Here’s what I know about these kids:
“The recipient of this award while a student in grade 12 was nominated by his principal and coach, excelled in mental attitude, athletic ability, scholarship and leadership during the four years of high school, participated as a state finalist in his sport and was selected by members of the IHSAA executive committee.”
That’s it. It’s the same speech I’ve heard as year after year I’ve attended the high school finals with my family. I can’t be sure – I was only 11 – but I think it’s the same thing that was said when I watched Karl Donovan of my hometown Vincennes Lincoln Alices win the Trester Award at the state finals in 1981.
This year, we watched as Lynch, Karazsia and Starks received their awards (we left at halftime of the Carmel-Indianapolis Cathedral game and missed the presentation for Volovic), but I have no idea why these young men won this prestigious honor.
I do know that Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance is the award’s sponsor. I know that Farm Bureau Insurance makes a $1,000 donation in the student’s name to his high school. And I know that since 1985, Farm Bureau has donated more than $785,000 in scholarships on behalf of high school mental attitude winners.
In other words, I know far more about this award’s sponsor than I do about these kids – and I assume there are some great things to know.
In my family, this has become an eye-rolling moment at the tournament. You’ve got these apparently great kids down on the court – often with tear-streaked faces, either because their teams have just won the championship or lost – and their parents beaming as they wait for their sons’ names to be read. And we’re hearing about the Indiana Farm Bureau.
After every tournament, I’ve promised to write a column about it. This year – with scrutiny over business and lobbying influence at the Statehouse fresh in my mind – I thought I’d do it.
Now, I want to be clear: I’m not equating corporate influence in the legislature to influence in high school sports. Well, not exactly. And I think it’s great that Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance has been such a consistent sponsor of high school sports – not just the boys’ basketball finals but the entire IHSAA program. I’m not opposed to reminding fans how much the company has contributed on behalf of Indiana student-athletes.
But I want to know about the students too. And I’d think Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and the IHSAA would want that as well.
Yet, we hear that speech. “The recipient of this award while a student in grade 12 …” Every year, I think maybe it will be different. Maybe I’ll learn that one of these boys volunteered at a homeless shelter or maybe he’s a volunteer tutor or maybe he’s the president of the student council. But it never happens.
This year, the boys were interviewed after the awards, which did give fans a glimpse at their personalities. That’s a start.
But it’s time to change the routine. I’m challenging the folks at the IHSAA – and Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance – to give us at least a hint of why these kids won. It will only take a minute or two and it won’t take anything away from the ceremony; it will add to it.
And don’t make this just a boys’ basketball thing. The IHSAA names mental attitude award winners in other sports as well. I haven’t regularly attended those events and so I can’t speak to how it’s done. But I’m confident that telling fans why those kids won will only enhance the experience.
The kids deserve it.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She normally writes about government and politics but sometimes just can’t help a diversion.
Clarification: This column has been changed from its original version. It originally identified the sponsor of the IHSAA tournament as the Indiana Farm Bureau. It is actually Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, which is owned by Indiana Farm Bureau. You can see all our corrections and clarifications by clicking here.