Bigger than sports

Seth Kinker
Sports Editor

On April 1, shortly after noon, the twitter account for Fort Loramie athletics sent out a tweet with a picture of a message addressed to the seniors of the Fort Loramie girls basketball team.

That message was sent from Hope Custer, a senior point guard from Fairfield Christian Academy that the Lady Redskins could have seen in the regional semifinals.  

“My very first thought when I heard that the tournaments were canceled was of your team, and more specifically, you seniors. My heart and prayers go out to each one of you,” said Custer in her message. “No words I say will change the reality of the situation, or get you back the last couple of games you were supposed to have. Having your season end when you had your sights set on a championship is a hurt you can’t put into words, but I know that’s not the half of it for you seniors.”

"I don’t have a secret formula to make all the hurt disappear, but I can tell you that your hardship and grief does not go unnoticed. That is why I wanted to email all of you,” said Custer in another part of that message. “In light of all the events going on in the world, it’s easy for people to look at your season ending how it did as insignificant, and I want you to know it’s not. My family, school, and community were all saddened for your team, and more specifically, you seniors. Your hurt matters, and I want you to know that.”

“I was definitely surprised to see that someone had reached out to us,” said senior Kennedi Gephart. “but once I started reading through the email I was so glad she did (even though it made me cry again). It’s nice to know that people are still thinking about us and that our season didn’t end going unnoticed. I don’t know Hope Custer, but I can tell she is a special person. I hope she realizes how much we appreciate her act of kindness.”

Custer, who finished her career as the all-time leading scorer for Fairfield Christian with 1,716 points and is heading to Mt. Vernon Nazarene University next year to play basketball, told The Community Post she put it together the day before the Fort Loramie seniors read it but that it had been on her mind since the tournaments were postponed the week of Mar. 9.

“I couldn’t get them off my mind because I had seen film on them considering we could’ve been playing them in regional semifinals had we won,” Custer told The Community Post on Apr. 3. “I just said so many times to my parents how talented they were and it really hit me when they wouldn’t get a chance at states. When it was canceled that was when it kind of solidified, ‘I need to write these girls, I need to do this’ because it was really on my heart. God kept bringing it to my mind over and over again.”

“My initial reaction was just ‘wow,’” said senior Taylor Ratermann. “Someone who doesn’t even know us recognized our success and our disappointment. She had lost her senior season a few weeks prior, and is currently losing parts of her senior year, yet she was thinking about us and took the time to reach out. Simply unselfish and classy. The past few weeks have been a struggle. Her words were so thoughtful, and to know someone was thinking about us and praying for us was so encouraging and uplifting. It made our team realize that our hard work didn’t go unnoticed despite the outcome of the situation. Our team was very appreciative of her act. Coach had told us a little bit about her and her success. What a great basketball player, but an even more incredible person.”

After returning their whole team from last year that reached the regional finals, Fort Loramie was a favorite for a Division IV state title and were undefeated before the season was cut short by COVID-19.

Custer told The Community Post she wrote one draft, deleted part of it because she wanted to make sure the words were written right and then rewrote it. After reading it through 5-10 times, she knew that’s what she wanted to send.

“My dad’s always taught me if you’re going to say something meaningful, make sure you say it in a way they’re going to know what you’re saying,” said Custer.

“Very touched by her words, her concern,” said Fort Loramie head coach Carla Siegel, who had scouted Fairfield Christian against Danville and saw Custer play. “That a senior from far away is hurting for our seniors was just unreal. I just reached out and told her I saw her play and thought she was a great player. The kind of player I like. Gritty, hard worker and that’s what I saw on the floor. What most people don’t know, she actually wrote two letters. She wrote one letter for the seniors and another letter for the team. She wanted the sophomore and juniors to know she feels for them as well.”

“Honestly, it was so sweet of her to go out of her way to send us that,” said senior Macy Imwalle. “That was truly an awesome gesture. You can tell she loves the game just as much as we do and her character and personality showed so much more about her. It was awesome to see that someone was thinking about us and I am grateful for everyone who feels for us.”

Custer’s letter to the rest of the team was written slightly different because she knew they would have another chance to put on the Fort Loramie jersey again, yet was still able to empathize with the rest of the team after dealing with an upset that ended her junior year early.

“The one to the team addressed that it was hard to see the senior class, that was the last time a lot of them would get to play with them and I had a similar experience last year that was mentioned in our local article,” said Custer. “Our team was upset in district finals and so I wasn’t anticipating that being the  last game with some of my best friends who were seniors and so I talked about that with them. Just encouraging (them) and letting them know it was okay to grieve right now and  its okay to be upset but when the next year comes it will hold its own memories and own things you’ll hold dear to your heart you wouldn’t expect.”

“My initial response was how kind hearted and sweet this girl was to write such a heartfelt letter,” said senior Marissa Meiring. “I can tell you it really touched every one of the seniors as well as the whole team. Our situation was not ideal and it was the last thing anyone could ever want, but it’s nice knowing that us (and the rest of the teams that went through this) have the love and support from everyone.”

In a unique timeline where so much is going on, Custer reminds us that sometimes it’s bigger than sports.