A PANTHERS ROAR

Written by Steven Christie
5/31/20

NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain once told Michael Jordan, “the difference between you and me is that they had to change the rules so I couldn’t dominate. They changed the rules for you so you could dominate.” That’s how I feel talking to these younger Carmel cats. I don’t want to get stuck focusing on prior to the weekend of the State Final but to truly understand what happened that day y’all are going to have to get an idea of who I am. This may take a bit to get out so sit back, enjoy the ride but this is what happened from MY eyes.


Growing up I was bred into North Central tennis. My oldest brother Ryan won State doubles and 3 team titles at North central. To my knowledge, he was a part of the first IHSAA team to win singles, doubles, and team State in the same year in 1995. My other brothers Craig and Kyle also played on the team at North Central, along with my sister Stacey, and Kyle’s matches are the first tennis matches I remember watching. Liza could've been very good but played softball instead at Cathedral, where she convinced me to go to school for a few semesters.


When I was young, me and my future teammate JT Wynne would paint up and go over to the John Shirley Invitational. There, we were like small mascots, just go crazy for the team and be as loud as we could. Every other sport has fans cheering, tennis does not, but it’s not against the rules to. People just don’t. But North Central Tennis indeed does. And WE always have and let me tell y’all, it’s fun as f***. One thing North Central Tennis has is a lucky goose, Alfredo, and so young JT and I bought a goose call to bring to all the matches growing up, but the officials didn’t let us use it once we were on the team. The reason I’m telling y’all this is to understand how much it meant to JT and I. North Central tennis was how we fell in love with the sport. We grew up with North Central Tennis and were raised in it. Being on the team was like two fans being on the team, not just players.

 
 

Now that y’all understand a bit of the past it’s time to bring it back to 2015 and my lone season as a panther. I was having so much fun, winning every team match we played en route to a state championship, alongside my best friends growing up JT and JJ Kroot. The team state final is the week before the individual and we get there and there’s barriers set up 5-10 feet from the fence of the courts so we couldn’t be too close to the fence, or maybe too loud. Still not really sure why, but there have never been barriers at another tennis final prior to that or after that, that I know of. “Barriers?” we thought. “We’re on the team why are there these f****** barriers for us”. JT clinches to beat Carmel en route to a state title, damn right we knock the barriers over and start climbing the fence.

We win team state and the next weekend JJ Kroot, Jon “Turkey” Tuerk, and I were back for the state individual finals. Looking to be the first and only other team since 1995 Ryan Christie’s North Central Panthers to win singles, doubles, and a team title. To win state you have to win 3 matches that final weekend. Apparently IHSAA had enough of our fun and before the first match of the State Finals, the officials told my coach that the universal “get up” gesture used forever to pump the crowd up of lifting my arms toward the crowd would not be allowed. Taking away the team aspect of the game, and more important taking away the fun from the sport. However, I said whatever and moved on with my quest. But who is the assistant commissioner of IHSAA? Cathedral AD, Chris Kaufman. I’m not saying he was behind it, but he just sat and watched it all unravel while the former North Central AD, the late legend Paul Loggan, stood up for anything a NC athlete did and ALWAYS had our backs.


It’s the first match that weekend and I’m playing Ian Landwehr. Getting murdered. Down 2-6 0-1 I finally win a game and I do the ”get up”  motion towards the crowd and I don’t care, I had to do it. I needed some emotion from my fans and needed energy in this match. My teammates knowing I wasn’t allowed to do it made the moment even crazier, I think. So, I took the warning and knew if I did it again the rest of the weekend, I would lose a point. So, zero chance I’m taking that chance again and risking the weekend I had looked forward to my whole life. I go on to win the match 1-6 6-1 6-2. Bullet dodged. In the meantime, JJ and Turkey are cruising to the doubles finals.


In the semifinals the next morning, I play Eric Hollingsworth from Richmond, Indiana. I swear the guy started playing like Wawrinka that day, passing me left and right. I weathered the storm and he eventually calmed down; I win 6-3 6-2.

So now the fun begins. I know, all that reading for the fun to just now begin. Later that day after beating Hollingsworth, I pull up to Park Tudor High School for the Final against Sam Concannon, but it starts raining. The match is moved to Concannon’s coaches club instead of waiting for it to stop raining. That coach is also my old coach who kicked me out of his program for cancelling a lesson the night of my moms birthday when I was only 13. Great. After that happened, I trained in Texas until that year and I hadn’t played indoor tennis for a few years, since I left that coach. But whatever another barrier IHSAA put up, I’ll just knock that s*** down too, is how I thought.


At the match, because it was indoors, it seemed like there were a lot of people to begin with because people were packing in, unlike the stadium at Park Tudor. Maybe just being on the court made it that much more real but it felt exciting. I always performed best with the crowd, since North Central has the best tennis fan base in the state, easily. Almost everybody I knew from Indy was there and I was ready for the moment.

 
 

In the state finals everybody has a chair line judge, a referee for their court. My referee was a man. It was not the lady who made the “get up” rule up, Lynda Hinshaw. Concannon is serving at 3-3 and it’s a long deuce game. Back and forth. He wins a point, I win a point. I finally hit a backhand down the line, return winner for a break. Finally, game over. Moved forward, smacked it, fist pump towards all my friends and fans and kept running to the changeover. (0 issue, something I’d done my whole life, watched others do before me, and have watched others do since me). Out of the corner of my eye I see Lynda walking from the other court she was judging onto my court with a smirk on her face. I’m telling my assistant coach, Jami Clark, that it’s about to go down and he didn’t even know what I meant because nothing happened yet. Then bam, Lynda’s on the court telling my referee, my coaches, and I to give me a code violation. A code violation takes a point away from me, next being a game, and if again, the match. Any more slips ups and I have no chance. For something I didn’t do. In the biggest moment of my life, and right when I took control of the match. Since I got a warning against Ian, this is now a point penalty. I lost it.


What happened in the minutes after that is a blur, I just remember asking if I could leave the court, and go to the bathroom, feeling like I just had to get out of there for a bit, not believing what had just happened. I walk to the bathroom and a friend, Parker Reist, meets me in there trying to keep me sane because there is steam literally coming off of me. That was my worst decision yet. I walk back on the court and the amount of people seemed like it went from 200 to 20,000 and at one moment it just seemed “what have i done. Half of these people watching barely know tennis and think I’m a lunatic and don’t know what actually happened.” So now I’m finally explaining it. I couldn’t play with any fire again and couldn’t make a fool out of myself again so I wanted off that court as fast as I could before something else went even worse. I felt I let JJ and Turkey down. I let JT down. I let my brother Ryan down. I still tried to win, but I couldn’t play tennis the way I had played all season, there was no fun, and almost no chance to win for me playing with no emotion. I go on to lose the match 7-6 6-1.


The worst part is. I didn’t even do whatever the rule they implemented was. If I thought I might have even done it I wouldn’t still think about it every single day. I made sure my celebration was within the new rules and even still I got in trouble. When I did it against Ian in the 1st match, I admitted to it. I did it. This one, I will never admit, because I never did it, and I will never get over it, because I never did it. I’m sure there’s tape somewhere from that match and I’m dying for someone to pull it out.


Most high-level tennis players know high school tennis is not the most important level in tennis and for a lot of the top players it is almost a joke. In Indiana though high school sports is the pinnacle. I also hadn’t competed in a full tournament for 3 years since my elbow surgery. How my elbow healed during that season is still somewhat of a mystery. So for me, winning state was my last shot at having a great achievement and going to a college that I would feel I accomplished something going to. When I was 14 I had the Texas and TCU head coaches watching a couple matches of mine, not saying I would’ve gone there, but to give you an idea of where my level was at only a few years before the season. I ended up getting 1 email back from over 100 division 1 schools, and it was IUPUI and Dr Brandon Currie who I am forever thankful for giving me that opportunity. But with no disrespect, I believe I could’ve played there when I was 13. I played there for a year and tried to transfer out. When I went back to schools such as Texas and TCU to try to walk on after beating multiple BIG-10 players my freshman year, they asked why I should be able to make the jump to that school coming from IUPUI. Why I tell you this, because this match, in my head, changed my life.


Since then Lynda has become somewhat of a meme for everybody who knows her. When I see her I just try to kill her with kindness and to this day no words have been spoken since the Final about that day between me and her.


I didn’t write this as a pity party but I wanted everybody to see that day through my lens. I wanted y’all to know what actually happened on that day and the effect it had on my years after that. I have thought about it every d*** day, and am hoping by writing this I will get some kind of solace and begin to move on. Some of y’all might’ve known this, some might think you knew, and some didn’t know it happened but now you know exactly how it went. Even though that day didn’t go my way, nobody can take away the team ring that I and my team deserved.

 
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