TERRE HAUTE —
This was not the easiest column I ever wrote, but it did send a tingle down my spine in a “wow, that’s amazing” kind of way.
And after interviewing Rockville senior Billy Bettis and Seeger junior Khole Stephen this week, I can’t help but root for them in 2010.
Both almost died too young in 2009 — which I can relate to because of my previously documented battle with cancer — yet both were fiercely determined to return to their teams.
They’ll open their high school football seasons against each other tonight on Seeger’s field in West Lebanon, starting at 7 o’clock.
Stephen, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound starting quarterback for Seeger this season, was driving his mother’s 2005 Cadillac CTS on a blacktop road in rural Warren County on the Saturday night of Oct. 24. One day after his 2009 football season ended with a sectional loss at Rensselaer Central, the vehicle flipped six times and landed “quite a ways off the road, right side up,” he recalled.
Unconscious at the time, Stephen was later told that a man saw part of the one-car accident from a nearby house and called an ambulance.
“I still don’t remember it,” insists Stephen, who was transported to Carle Clinic in Champaign, Ill., after the crash.
His injuries included Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), two collapsed lungs and cuts on the back of his head that required six staples — but no broken bones.
“I was in critical condition for three or four days with brain swelling,” he said. “I was in ICU [intensive care unit] for 11 days. Then the swelling went down and I progressively got a little better … but it was a bad deal.”
Part of that life-or-death experience did make Stephen thankful, however.
“It was amazing that even though I was in a coma on the night of the wreck, three-fourths of the football team and coach [Rob] Beckett were there at 3 o’clock in the morning to see how I was,” he said. “All sorts of people, some I didn’t know, were praying for me. It was awesome.”
Stephen, who estimated that he underwent 11 surgeries during his 25-day hospital stay, said doctors inserted a probe into his head to monitor pressure on his brain.
When Stephen eventually recovered enough to ask questions to doctors and family members, he wondered when he would get back to school, partly so he could play basketball again.
“I didn’t want to let anybody down,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Bettis — who will start at offensive tackle, defensive tackle and placekicker for the Rox tonight — was recovering from his own one-car accident that occurred at about 7 a.m. June 17, 2009.
Heading to Terre Haute on U.S. 41 to run an errand for his father, Bettis and his 2003 Monte Carlo reportedly drifted left across the oncoming lane in the Parke County town of Lyford. Fortunately, there were no other motorists nearby, but his vehicle struck an object, flipped over and slid 80 to 100 feet.
“I was tired, probably from a lack of sleep the night before,” Bettis recalled. “I fell asleep and I didn’t have my seat belt on.
“I remember getting out of the car [after the accident]… I thought it was going to blow up because I saw it smoking, so I wanted to get out as fast as I could.”
Soon afterward, a passing motorist — who happened to be an EMT — checked on Bettis before on-duty Clinton EMTs arrived. He was transported to Union Hospital Clinton, then Lifelined to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I was more worried about football than anything else,” he said. “I didn’t feel too bad at first because I was on so much medicine.”
“Billy was upset because of football,” mentioned Rockville football coach Herb King, who had rushed from Terre Haute to Indianapolis when he received a call from another player about Bettis’ mishap. “He was worried that it would mess up the season.”
King said several concerned Rockville players and members of Bettis’ family waited in the hospital lobby for condition updates. The original news wasn’t good, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Unlike Stephen later in the year, Bettis didn’t need surgeries. But he did break two vertebrae in the middle of his back, forcing him to wear a back brace for the next 2 1/2 months.
“I had thought I was going to have a good  season,” he reminisced, “then I thought it was all going to go down the drain because of the wreck.”
His season didn’t exactly go “down the drain,” but Bettis knows he wasn’t his old self when he miraculously returned to the lineup in Week 3. The Rox ended up 8-4 overall and 6-1 in the Wabash River Conference in 2009.
“I was pretty tentative at first,” Bettis admitted. “I didn’t want to get hurt again.”
Back to Stephen, he was able to play junior varsity basketball last winter and varsity baseball in the spring. But he doesn’t think he pitched as well as a sophomore as he did when he was a freshman, although he did get better as the season progressed.
“The hardest thing for me [after being released from the hospital] was getting my conditioning back,” Stephen assessed. “I’d lost 40 pounds, but I finally got it all back right before I took my physical [in June].”
Stephen said he got back to “being myself again” this summer. “I truly believe I would not be here right now if I were not in shape from playing three sports,” he maintained.
When preseason football practices began in 2010, coach Beckett would not allow Stephen’s teammates to hit him hard, probably similar to how the Indianapolis Colts treat Peyton Manning every year. Then came last Friday’s scrimmage at West Vigo, where Stephen started behind center.
“I took a few big hits against West Vigo and I popped right back up,” he said. “I was fine.”
Like Stephen, Bettis credits his prior dedication to fitness workouts for keeping him alive.
Again, I can relate.
“I always enjoyed lifting weights,” Bettis emphasized. “I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in [when the accident occurred].”
Not surprisingly, Bettis worked out hard over the summer to be in great shape for the upcoming season.
“I don’t have any problems with [the back] anymore,” he pointed out.
“He’s a hard lifter,” King added. “He put up 385 [pounds] in the bench press once. So he’s a very strong kid.”
So how much are Stephen and Bettis looking forward to this football season?
As you might guess, they’re psyched beyond belief.
“I’m super excited,” Bettis proclaimed. “We have a core group of guys that worked hard in the offseason and should be successful if we all do our jobs and work together as a team.”
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Stephen said. “I was pushing as hard as I could to be able to help my team.”
Asked if any long-term effects exist from his October accident, Stephen quickly replied: “Absolutely not.”
Stephen and Bettis said they’ve never met before, but both agreed they might shake hands and exchange a few friendly words before tonight’s clash.
But what about after the game starts? How friendly will they act toward each other then?
“I’ll try to rip his head off,” the 6-foot, 240-pound Bettis said with a chuckle.
King describes Bettis, who was named the Rockville team captain for this season, as “the one who gets everybody going.”
“Billy’s grown up immensely since he was a freshman,” the Rockville coach stressed. “Because he went through this [accident ordeal], he became a better person.”
Near-death experiences tend to do that. I can relate.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.
TERRE HAUTE —
This was not the easiest column I ever wrote, but it did send a tingle down my spine in a “wow, that’s amazing” kind of way.
- Hughes News & Views
Hughes, News & Views: Odds in favor of Richard Sherman being mentioned here
I’ve explained my post-2011 NFL allegiances before, but allow me to summarize them one more time for any new readers to this column.
I eased into liking the Indianapolis Colts as my favorite team in the late 1980s. Like plenty of other Wabash Valley sports fans, I became Colts-obsessed when Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and others turned them into an elite franchise in 1999 and the early 2000s.
When the Colts beat Da Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4, 2007, I yelled as loud as anyone in Terre Haute.
Hughes, News & Views: The ’78-79 Sycamores rediscover timeless bond
The 1978-79 Indiana State men’s basketball team that posted a 33-1 record and battled Michigan State for the coveted NCAA championship almost 35 years ago isn’t likely to play any more full-court games together, not even just for fun.
Hughes, News & Views: Shaw preparing for 20th season as Rose-Hulman coach
When Rose-Hulman men’s basketball coach Jim Shaw gets introduced to the Hulman Center crowd before Sunday afternoon’s exhibition game against Indiana State, think of the old saying “time flies when you’re having fun.”
Hughes, News & Views: Friends remember Jim Bogle
When I covered the semifinal round of the IHSAA boys tennis sectional at Terre Haute North last week, it seemed like there was an empty seat in the bleachers.
In reality, I noticed few — if any — empty seats because plenty of spectators wanted to watch the host Patriots battle No. 14-ranked Terre Haute South for the right to advance to the next day’s sectional championship match.
In the end, junior Nathan Bogle pulled out a dramatic three-set victory at No. 1 singles to help South edge its crosstown rivals 3-2 on its way to capturing the sectional title.
Yet there was something missing.
The person who would have been in that empty seat I imagined, Nathan’s father Jim Bogle, had been battling cancer for close to two years and could not attend the sectional.
Sadly, cancer claimed his life Thursday morning. He was 52.
Hughes, News & Views: Doug Shouse going into ASU Hall of Honor
One thing you can say about members of Terre Haute’s Shouse family: They never have had a problem with running and jumping.
At least not until knee problems hit.
An outstanding athlete since the days I played pick-up basketball games with him and his brothers in the Terre Haute Boys Club and Indiana State University Arena gyms in the mid to late 1970s, a young Doug Shouse knew how to turn heads with his dunks and athletic fast-break moves against college guys and mediocre players like me.
Hughes, News & Views: Oden picks Miami Heat for site of comeback
At 7 feet tall, former Terre Haute resident Greg Oden stands out in almost any crowd.
So to persuade the increasingly healthy Oden to play during the 2013-14 NBA season — for the first time since Dec. 5, 2009 — a team needed to offer something unique to stand out.
Like, say, a chance at a ring.
Enter the Miami Heat, who have won the last two NBA championships behind the “Big Three” of four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Hughes, News & Views: Gladiator Games are back Saturday
When I talk to my old weightlifting buddies around the country on the phone, through texts or on Facebook, we frequently reminisce about “the good ol’ days.”
Imagine that — guys over 50 living in the past.
Anyway, I recently discussed with Jim McCarty — who now lives in Daytona Beach, Fla. — about a “Terre Haute’s Strongest Man” contest he organized in the mid-1980s inside the National Guard Armory on Maple Avenue.
Hughes, News & Views: Lure of big payoffs fuels columnist's fantasy football addiction
Gather around, my friends. I think I may need an intervention.
After winning the championship game of our Tribune-Star newsroom free fantasy football league in 2003 — the first time I ever participated in the popular hobby — I became hooked on dominating as many leagues as possible.
Hughes, News & Views: Terre Haute ‘hacker' accomplishes Mark’s Par Three first
It’s no secret that Mark’s Par Three is not the most difficult golf course in Vigo County.
But it’s enjoyable for beginners and golfers of modest skill levels and it doesn’t lack for activity during warm-weather months.
Open since 1964, it’s had its fair share of players test their skills, probably several better than 43-year-old Brian Brown of Terre Haute.
Hughes, News & Views: Pacers, 500, NFL on mind of curious columnist
One previous time, I believe, my annual May questions column ran one day late into June.
Can you forgive me for this being the second time?
With apologies out of the way, below are questions that have been taking up valuable space in my head lately.
Some are serious, some not so much. Most are sports-related, but don’t blame me if a few are not. After all, newspaper sportswriters don’t eat, sleep and breathe sports 24/7 (contrary to what my Lisa might tell you).
Here we go:
• How funny will the reaction of the national media be when the Indiana Pacers knock off the unbeatable Miami Heat tonight and Monday to take the series and head to an NBA Finals showdown with the San Antonio Spurs? Hint: Several ESPN “experts” will need to change their underwear next week.
Hughes, News & Views: Terre Haute runner sets up race to help Boston
Having competed in the Boston Marathon once before in 2003, 35-year-old Majel Wells of Terre Haute thought she should give it another try in 2013.
“My goal was just to finish and enjoy Boston,” she reflected this week. “I had an injury [runner’s knee] beforehand, so I wasn’t too worried about beating my time from 2003 [4 hours, 10.20 seconds].
“But nobody cares about what your time is at Boston anyway.”
From what I’ve heard over the years, she’s right. Unless you’re a super-serious runner, the Boston Marathon has been more about taking in the atmosphere and having fun than placing in the top 50, although Wells was pleased that she beat her previous time by finishing in 3:55.19 on April 15.
Obviously, her race time wasn’t the most vivid memory that Wells took away from her 2013 Boston experience.
Hughes, News & Views: Former South players to play in Saylor benefit game
I had my first phone conversation with Mike Saylor since mid-February on Thursday and he sounded good.
The former Terre Haute South High School boys basketball coach, who’s been battling cancer this year, has been traveling back and forth to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for chemotherapy treatments.
Recent South swimmers Roach, Bray heading to DI nationals
I’m sure most of you with office jobs can relate.
When work gets busy, sometimes it’s easy to skim over our emails. After all, how many times do we need to read the same nonsense from alleged Nigerians wanting to make us rich if we’ll send them several thousand dollars first?
So after having three consecutive days off, that almost happened to me when I returned to work Tuesday. Then I realized that the message from Jeff Thompson, Terre Haute South High School’s boys and girls swimming coach, contained significant news.
NCAA Division III basketball tournament returns to Rose-Hulman
The last time Rose-Hulman served as host for the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, its game was played inside an old World War II airplane hangar.
You “old-timers” should know the building I’m talking about and the matchup wasn’t really that long ago — March 6, 1997, to be exact.
DAVID HUGHES: Childhood friends use faith, sports to get them through
When I learned in February 2009 that a rare form of appendix cancer would devastate my life and cause me to miss work for several months, Mike Saylor was among the first to offer assistance.
Book review: Thumbs up for ‘Trophies and Tears’
Now might be too late for giving Christmas presents, but the book “Trophies and Tears: The Story of Evansville and the Aces” is a fascinating read for longtime Indiana basketball fans, particularly those older than 40.
Written by award-winning Kyle Keiderling of Henderson, Nev., and released in hardcover format in mid-December, the 480-page “Trophies and Tears” documents the rich tradition of the University of Evansville men’s basketball program through recent interviews and research of old yearbooks and newspaper/scrapbook clippings.
The book contains many cheery moments — behind-the-scenes details of all five NCAA College Division (now known as Division II) championships won in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s by the Purple Aces and their legendary coach Arad McCutchan — although some of those moments don’t seem so cheery from an Indiana State perspective when the Sycamores found themselves on the losing end of scores.
Hughes, News & Views: Wishing for Colts-Broncos playoff matchup from Santa
There’s plenty of tragedy in the world to bring us down if we let it, so let’s have a light-hearted column today — my annual Christmas gift requests for Santa Claus.
I already know one of my gift wishes is becoming less likely to happen. That would be for the Indianapolis Colts to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC playoffs.
Colts' loyalty tested by Manning, Broncos
We’re approaching the halfway point of the NFL season and so far it’s been surprisingly enjoyable.
I wasn’t sure how I would handle following two favorite teams — 1a.) the Indianapolis Colts and 1b.) Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — but the new arrangement hasn’t caused me any loyalty conflicts yet.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Sorting out the sports air waves
My name isn’t attached to them, but I’m the one who usually puts together the “Sports on the air” television/radio listings that appear daily on this newspaper’s Scoreboard Page.
Hughes, News & Views: North junior ready to go racing
When we last visited 16-year-old Rachel Gutish, she was finishing sixth in the Women’s Enduro X race in the nationally televised Summer X Games at Los Angeles.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Yelovich still striking the ball long on LDA Tour
In June 2011, I wrote a feature story about former Indiana State basketball center Mick Yelovich making a name for himself as a golfer on the Long Drivers Association (LDA) Tour.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Colts? Broncos? Maybe there’s more than enough room for both
I’ve got a longtime buddy who I’m fairly sure rarely, if ever, reads this column.
HUGHES NEWS & VIEWS: Point of Jones’ return
Since May 14, Indiana high school basketball fans have wondered why Jim Jones would want to come out of retirement at 74.
HUGHES, NEWS & VIEWS: Questions abound for Indy 500, Manning, baseball sectional
Phones are ringing less frequently in the Tribune-Star sports department this week.
Hughes, News & Views: Hutson getting ready for final stretch toward Olympic Trials
If Kylie Hutson were a cross-country runner, she’d be approaching the final stretch of her biggest race in about three weeks.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Rose basketball alumni offer advice to current team
Bryan Egli and Joe Puthoff, both Rose-Hulman basketball starters I covered in the late 1990s, took their degrees from the prestigious engineering institute and found successful careers in the Indianapolis area.
Egli, also a former West Vigo High School multi-sport standout, lives in Carmel and works for Thieneman Construction in Westfield. Puthoff lives in Indy and works for Rolls Royce Aircraft Engines.
DAVID HUGHES: Super Bowl odds getting stranger and stranger
Today’s annual “Super Bowl odds column” feels special to me because I’ve been a diehard NFL fan since 1967 and next Sunday will be the first time the big game takes place in our great state of Indiana.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Coach’s book a chance to remember North Vermillion state champs
Almost 10 years ago, February 2002 to be exact, the New England Patriots upset the high-powered St. Louis Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the Winter Olympics entertained spectators in Salt Lake City and Terre Haute South High School’s girls basketball team started its tournament run toward a Class 4A state title.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Plenty of sports-related gifts for columnist's wish list
Last week, I was all set to beg Santa Claus to give the Indianapolis Colts a certificate good for one NFL regular-season victory.
Then the 2011 Colts decided to play like the 2009 Colts and clobber the Tennessee Titans on Sunday for their first win of the season. So that present won’t be necessary.
HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: WTHI defends decision not to show Colts
When your favorite NFL team is threatening to finish 0-16, you have to figure a few fans will jump off the bandwagon.
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