REGGIE HAYES: Plenty of Fort Wayne sports figures to admire in 2017

Qamari Hassan walks onto the field Oct. 5 at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium with the help of medical personnel. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Dallas Cowboys' Jaylon Smith (54) and Rod Smith (45) celebrate a touchdown scored on a run by Smith in the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 30 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by the Associated Press)
Bishop Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf claps for his team after it scored after Robby Kimes scored a touchdown in the Saints' 52-20 victory over DeKalb in the Class 4A Sectional 11 championship in 2007 at Zollner Stadium. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)
Bishop Luers kicker Peyton Howe warms up on the sideline during a game last season. (news-sentinel.com file photo)
Carson Nutter, left, and Jhonny Jose Carvajal before a youth baseball game last summer. (Courtesy photo)
TinCaps president Mike Nutter
Karissa McLaughlin, left, drives during a game last season. (news-sentinel.com file photo)
North Side football coach Mike Brevard directs a practice last fall. (news-sentinel.com file photo)

I’m calling timeout for some admiration.

Too often we spend our end-of-year sports reflection talking about great games or plays or statistical achievements. Those are fun, don’t get me wrong. But sports encompasses so much more than what happens on the field.

Let’s give some credit to those local people who made the type of impact that has a little to do with sports and a lot to do with being real people.

I can’t list everyone because, thankfully, I have a long list. But here are some of the local sports people I most admired in 2017:

QAMARI HASSAN, University of Saint Francis football player

I met Qamari in early October when he returned the first time to a University of Saint Francis football practice after a severe neck/spine injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. He had suffered the injury making a tackle in practice during his first August days as a freshman. While others feared the worst, assuming he’d never walk again, he vowed to return, almost from the moment he suffered the injury. He stood up and walked that day he returned to visit practice, with the help of his physical therapists.

By the time Saint Francis finished the regular season and prepared to head to Daytona to repeat as NAIA national champ, Qamari was not only walking, but driving a car. His recovery was phenomenal.

I most admire the young man’s optimism and spirit. He’s one of the most upbeat people I’ve met. If he ever felt sorry for himself, he didn’t show it. He’s an example of the importance of attitude, belief and non-stop hard work.

JAYLON and ROD SMITH, Dallas Cowboys football players

These brothers also displayed the importance of a work ethic and a belief in what can be accomplished. Jaylon suffered a devastating injury that forced him to miss an entire season. Rod started from the bottom, as a training camp player who had to prove his worth. Both made significant contributions when they got on the field. Watching them celebrate after a Rod touchdown was a long-distance thrill for those who saw them play high school football in Fort Wayne.

CHRIS SVARCZKOPF, former Bishop Dwenger football coach

Svarczkopf retired as coach after the 2017 season, ending a 39-year run as a coach and a decade and a half as Bishop Dwenger’s head coach. I always appreciated his straight-forward responses to questions after games. I admired his faith and toughness when he was battling cancer and I admired how he prepared his teams to be their best. But when he retired, so many former players came out on social media praising and thanking him, it reminded me that the biggest reason to admire him was the positive impact he made on others.

PEYTON HOWE, Bishop Luers football kicker

Howe demonstrated how teenagers are often better than the stereotype we have of self-absorbed, me-first brats. He took it upon himself to use his extra points and field goals as means to raise money for pediatric cancer research. He set a goal of raising $7,000 for the kick-it.org foundation and, at last count, the total was $7,285.

This is probably just the start of Peyton’s contribution to make the world a better place.

MIKE NUTTER, Fort Wayne TinCaps president

If we held a contest for nicest guy in local sports, there will be quite a battle for second place behind Nutter. Nice guys don’t finish last: Check out the TinCaps’ yearly acclaim for being one of the best baseball fan experiences at any level. That’s Nutter’s direction.

While Nutter could be on this list every season, he made a touching move this year, finding a way for first base coach Jhonny Carvajal’s 13-year-old son Jhonny Jose Carvajal to temporarily join Nutter’s son’s baseball team, even though Jhonny Jose spoke little English. Nutter called the team’s next opponent, letting the coach know of plans to add Jhonny Jose to the roster. That’s the type of man Nutter is, making sure the other team wouldn’t think Jhonny Jose was a ringer added at the last second. Nutter had never seen the boy play.

KARISSA MCLAUGHLIN, Indiana Miss Basketball from Homestead

This young player can play, as evidenced by the fact she’s contributing as a freshman at Purdue University this season. In leading Homestead girls to the Class 4A state title last season and winning Miss Basketball, it would have been easy for McLaughlin to get caught up in the hype. She didn’t. She remained respectful and humble throughout the run. I also admire her decision to be true to herself and switch from the University of Florida to Purdue after Florida fired the coach who recruited her.

MIKE BREVARD, North Side football coach

Brevard, the youngest coach in the city, was willing to publicly share his story, which included times when he, his mother and his brother were without a home. His goal as a coach is to impact young people, and he felt he could best do that by being honest and upfront. “I have kids with situations like mine or worse than mine,” he said. He wants to assure them they can, indeed, make a better life for themselves.

These are only a few from the local sports scene to make me pause and admire this year. The best part is I know there will be more in 2018.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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