Column: Barton back at Valpo just feels right
MBB: One of the program's all-time greats returns for another chapter in his Valpo story
There was a moment last year when I walked into an empty Athletics-Recreation Center a few hours after another crushing last-second loss by the Valparaiso men’s basketball team.
I had just finished writing the same story I had been writing all year after finishing the same press conference I had been attending all year. The season was winding down and I needed to take a moment before walking out to the frigid winter night.
I slumped into a seat in the bleachers and started staring aimlessly around the ARC. The lights were dimmed, but my eyes adjusted and soon they settled on the banners. Not the Horizon League banners from the years of Roger Powell. He was still months away from being named Valparaiso’s new head coach.
No, I found myself fixated on the Mid-Continent Conference banners, specifically the ones from 1998-2002. A wave of nostalgia came over me as I recounted memories from my earliest days of being a sports reporter.
Memories of driving from Milwaukee to Indy and back in one day to watch Valpo take on Indiana at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Memories of spending hours, and I mean hours, sitting in the WVUR studio hosting the pregame, halftime and postgame shows for Valparaiso’s trip to the Great Alaskan Shootout.
Memories of walking through shopping malls on road trips with a bunch of 7-footers and feeling the stares from everyone. How did a kid who saw his athletic career end in eighth grade due to an overwhelming lack of talent ever get so lucky to spend his college years with a Division I basketball team?
Memories of traveling to Hawaii my senior year with the men’s basketball team. Visiting the Pearl Harbor memorial just months after 9/11. Experiencing the worst turbulence of my life on the way home and making peace that if this was the end, there wasn’t a finer group to be with in that moment.
Memories of blowing out IUPUI in the 2002 Mid-Con title game, watching Valpo SID Bill Rogers dance in the locker room, and getting to fulfill a dream of covering a game in the NCAA tournament.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I started tearing up in the ARC that night as my mind drifted to the past. Those memories were exactly what I needed to remind myself that this profession is about so much more than numbers on a scoreboard.
Strip away all the wins and losses that I’ve covered in my 24 years associated with Valparaiso athletics, and this job, this privilege, has always been about the people. It’s why I still follow former coaches and players when they transfer to other schools. It’s why events like the TBT last year or Homecoming weekend or Hall of Fame weekend are my favorites.
It’s why I’m so damn happy that Lubos Barton is coming back to Valparaiso.