By Brent Brown
---- — GREENSBURG – After only three seasons in the Central Indiana Bantam Football League, the Decatur County Nightmares “A” team has already taken home the top prize.
The team, composed of sixth grade boys and girls, went 10-1 in the regular season, their only loss coming at the hands of Indianapolis Lutheran. The Nightmares returned the favor to their foe in the championship game and walked off the field with the honor of being called champions.
But there are other honors that transcend what can take place on a football field. The life lessons of community service, friendship and the importance of family were instilled in the young players as much as any blocking assignment on an offensive play.
Coach Cary Ralph’s playbook included as many lessons on citizenship as it did field strategy, and the resulting outcome was a group of boys and girls who displayed excellence on the football field and a brother-sister relationship toward one another.
That’s exactly what Ralph and assistant coaches Brian Lang, Jeff Beisel and Rick Carroll were hoping would happen.
Between football snaps, Ralph’s young charges made stops at the Greensburg Fire Department and washed the trucks while learning fire safety tips from local professionals. They volunteered their time at the Greensburg-Decatur County Animal Shelter, feeding and walking the dogs and allowing themselves ample time with all the furry residents therein.
Team practices drew crowds of seniors at Arbor Grove Village who sat in the sun watching more than 50 youngsters play their hearts out in one of America’s favorite pastimes, in its purest and simplest form.
And when it had all ended, the group gathered together to celebrate not only their victories on the field but their newfound friendships and burgeoning interest in making the places they call home a better place.
The Decatur County Nightmares are a squad assembled from students who attend classes at all local schools and several who hail from as far away as Batesville and the outskirts of Bartholomew County. Many never knew one another prior to putting on their helmets, but the groups, divided into “A,” “B” and “C” squads (based on grade level) quickly became fast friends and dedicated teammates.
They took on young squads from Brown County, Bartholomew County, North Decatur Elementary School, Indian Creek and others, and wound up defeating them all largely on the strength of a smash-mouth running game.
Fullback Sierra Lang, 13, was the short-yardage specialist and the go-to player when the team most needed a first down. Isaiah Myer’s speed made the combination of the two runners a particularly deadly one that secured many a victory for the A-team. Myer, who is also an accurate place kicker, said it takes heart and desire to be a part of the Nightmares squad.
Teammate Clinton Lorenz, a 6’3, 220-pound center and nose tackle helped block the line for the team’s dynamic running duo, while standout tight end Breanna Hadley was a constant threat in the team’s passing game and made the catch that sealed the team’s championship victory earlier this month.
Coach Ralph emphasized that all of his players get on the field in every game and the team wins and loses as just that: a team.
“With Nightmare Football, we’re more like a family,” Ralph told the Daily News at a team banquet at Parkside Lanes Saturday afternoon.
To further illustrate that point, youth footballers from all three squads gathered at the team’s taco bar Saturday regardless of their records. The championship “A” squad bowled and snacked with members of the winless “B” team. Former ‘Nightmares’ came along too, showing support for their friends who proudly don the team’s black jerseys today.
“We’re celebrating all levels today,” Ralph said.
That celebration came on the heels of an awards presentation that saw players and coaches hoist a large golden trophy in victory amid cheers and applause Saturday. Players received smaller trophies before gathering for food and splitting up into bowling teams. Ralph had vowed to allow his ponytail to be cut should the team take home the championship, and he was true to his word Saturday.
At the behest of the young team members, Coaches Lang and Beisel donned dresses that drew laughter from the students.
But in spite of the uniforms, the silly wagers fulfilled and the sport that had brought them together, it was the continued friendships that stood out the most at Saturday’s banquet.
Parents, in particular, were more than pleased with the way the coaches have represented themselves for their children.
Audrey Krizman, whose son Liam attends Good Shepherd Christian Academy, called her first season as parent of a player “an amazing experience.”
“It was really awesome,” Krizman said. “I was totally blown away. He’s [Liam] already ready for next year.”
Board Vice President Jackie Hadley and wife Jennifer, who serves as secretary, have two children on the championship team: “Bre” Hadley and Connor Deaton. Jennifer said she was most impressed at the level of respect taught to the children of the team. Jennifer also mentioned that coaches continually go “out of their way” to help students, even offering rides to practice when necessary. Jackie Hadley described the group as being “like a big family” and expressed pride in the students’ community service efforts.
Shelby Wheatley, the public relations specialist for the team, gave rave reviews for the coaches while her son, Owen, wound up a second-year all-star.
Causes aren’t far from the minds of parents and coaches, either, as team members will put on purple socks in honor November’s designation as Epilepsy Awareness Month, Wheatley said.
Steve Adams, a Batesville resident with two sons (Logan and Lucas) playing for the Nightmares B-team offered kind words for the coaches as well, commenting on their ability to teach life skills as much as the fundamentals of football to the children involved.
“It’s a bunch of people who care and get along,” Adams said of the staff and the heavily-involved groups of parents. “My sons learned a lot.”
Feelings were mutual among members of the coaching staff.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to teach kids the greatest game in the world,” Coach Rick Carroll said.
Jeff Beisel emphasized the culture of respect for one another the kids are expected to maintain and added that making certain the players were always having fun was key.
“This is just the best group of kids,” Beisel said.
The board members behind the team, in addition to those previously mentioned, include President Newt Shackelford and Treasurer Lynne Jarman. Shackelford and Jarman are two more parents who got involved in the program and have helped preach the team’s tenants of family, friends and football.
The team has also helped those parents forge friendships among one another, whether or not they ever expected to become “football moms and dads.”
Coaches Ralph and Lang emphasized the inclusive aspect of the Nightmares program and the ability for students who otherwise might not have an opportunity to play be given a chance to do so.
“It says a lot about our coaching staff and a lot about our kids,” Lang said of the team’s recent championship victory.
“But it’s not just about football. It’s about letting them know you love them and you care.”
Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056