I’ve been a fan of Ryan’s for so long and I’ve been lucky enough to call him a friend for several years, and I was so excited to sit down and talk to him just about life. Ryan is an incredibly talented musician and was in the popular a capella singing group Straight No Chaser. He left a life of touring and fame to lead a Young Life chapter in his hometown, so he shares his journey of leaving the world of professional entertainment to work in ministry. It’s such a great story of faith that we can all resonate with. He’s hilarious and has so much wisdom and he was an obvious choice as the guest of the first episode.
If you’re like me, every time I post something to social media I get an instant shot of adrenaline as I watch the likes and comments roll through. They come in almost instantaneously, and Instagram has actually rewired its algorithm so that likes and comments come in one at a time, which gives us a rush of dopamine every time we see someone new has interacted with our post.
It was hard to watch as people got up and walked out of the church service right as “In Christ Alone” began to play. The irony, surely, was lost on them.
Earlier this week Crossroads Christian Church, the church I grew up in and called my home during my formative years and early adulthood, endured one its toughest weeks in its 51-year history. After months of consideration, the elders of the church elected to fire the church’s lead pastor, Patrick Garcia, and teaching pastor, Rick Kyle, and what resulted was a week full of in-fighting among church members, community members, and family members of those affected.
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like uncertainty. Really, who does? But I mean I really don’t like uncertainty, like down to the point where if I think someone is even the slightest bit mad at me, I’ll stew over it until it gets resolved.
I don’t like not knowing what’s going on or what’s about to come. There are times when I’m content to go with the flow, but when it comes to life’s major decisions or events, I don’t like being uncertain. This runs counter to what God calls us to do as Christians.
Every time I saw David Rinehart, it didn’t matter where it was or when it was, that’s what he’d call me. If I remember right, it was one of many nicknames given to me by my youth group friends in high school that was a spinoff of my name. Most of the time, I get annoyed when people mistake my name, because getting called “Clay” or “Clay Colebourn” happens more than you know. With David, it was a term of endearment. Something was wrong if he didn’t greet me with a “‘Sup, Colebourn,” or some other variation.
There’s a line in the Third Eye Blind song “Graduate” in which lead singer Stephan Jenkins asks, “Do you live the days you go through?”
I’d always sung along with it but, like so many people do with catchy songs, never really stopped to pay attention to what I was actually saying, or put it in context with the rest of the song. One day I decided to search the Internet for what Jenkins was actually writing about. The reality, though, was that it didn’t really matter.
It will light up millions of living rooms on televisions across the country on Sunday.
Football is an insanely popular sport to watch. But some change their tune when asked to consider their child as a football player. Fifty percent of Americans in a 2014 Bloomberg poll opposed their children playing.
It’s a sport under attack, and the fear of concussions and long-term brain damage is taking center stage.
Indiana high school football players suffered 830 “concussive events” during the 2014 fall sports season — by far the most of any sport. The next closest was girls’ soccer, with 155.
It’s such an epidemic across the country that a group of former Illinois high school football players are suing the Illinois High School Association. They want sweeping changes to ensure better concussion management. It’s the first lawsuit concerning concussions to target the high school game, and athletic administrators think it could have adverse implications across the country.
It could substantially hamper high schools financially to the point where poor schools can’t even afford high school football.
Even in Indiana?
“Oh, absolutely,” said Bobby Cox, the commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association.
He called the threat of the lawsuit “imminent.”
“It is a serious matter that threatens the core of high school sports, not just football,” he said.
The lawsuit wants Illinois to implement standard concussion protocol such as preseason baseline testing; methods to track and report concussions; and requiring medical personnel with “specific expertise in managing, identifying and treating concussions” to be at IHSA football games and practices. It also calls for implementation of educational requirements for trainers and faculty.
Who would pay for those changes is unclear, and that’s part of the fear. It could potentially fall on taxpayers.
But Joseph Siprut, the Chicago-based attorney behind the lawsuit, said the endgame is to effectuate change. The idea of eliminating high school football is merely scare tactics from those who want to galvanize that position, he said.
“I don’t think you can approach an issue like this in a vacuum and say ‘let’s only do the things that people can afford,’” he said. “By that logic, maybe people can’t afford to have guardrails on a roller coaster. You kind of need to do that.”
Siprut is also under no illusion that the IHSA, or any high school association, is made of money, like the NCAA or NFL. He doesn’t expect 10 Harvard-trained brain surgeons on the sidelines.
Opponents of the case believe the court system isn’t the best vehicle to make these changes, which was a point with which Siprut adamantly disagreed.
“Things are very slow moving. Too many people have to be involved at the same time in the same room to make decisions and it just never happens,” he said. “There are times when you need a lawsuit to effectuate change and this is the classic example of where that is true.”
Getting ahead of the curve
Indiana, and particularly the Evansville region, implemented years ago a lot of the changes that the Illinois lawsuit calls for.
When the concussion issue became more serious, two doctors from St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, Dr. Todd Arnold and Dr. Pat Kersey, traveled to Pittsburgh to learn about Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT).
ImPACT is a computerized test designed to detect things such as processing speed, reaction time and memory — areas affected if an athlete sustains a concussion. It determines an athlete’s baseline, or normal cognitive function. When an athlete suffers a brain injury, they take a post-injury test that compares those results with the pre-injury baseline test.
Baseline testing, as mentioned in the lawsuit, is widely regarded as one of the best practices in helping treat, diagnose and manage concussions. Indiana uses it because Arnold and Kersey realized its importance.
Arnold and Kersey secured a grant through St. Vincent’s Hospital in 2010 that paid for baseline testing for Indiana high school athletes at almost 140 schools, roughly half of IHSAA member schools.
The two doctors trained about 200 doctors across Indiana in how to read and administer the ImPACT test.
One Evansville doctor, Andrew Saltzman of Tri-State Orthopaedics, was particularly interested in bringing the technology to the area.
“As we as physicians and the public became more aware of the importance of appropriate concussion management, I became more aware that I didn’t think we were doing an adequate job locally,” Saltzman said.
Saltzman, with the help of Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. Athletic Director Paul Neidig, ProRehab and St. Mary’s Hospital, formed the St. Mary’s Sports Concussion Alliance. Now, several doctors in the Evansville region are trained to read ImPACT tests and help determine if a player can return to the field.
The original grant money ran out, but St. Vincent donates that money each year to continue paying for baseline tests. Now, most schools download the test onto computers at the school’s computer labs so the athletes can take the test.
EVSC student-athletes are required to take the ImPACT test every two years, even though the IHSAA doesn’t require it.
The EVSC also partners with ProRehab to provide a trainer at each Southern Indiana Athletic Conference school. Trainers attend every varsity football practice and game, as well as other varsity sports at their schools. They decide when an athlete needs to be taken out of a game or when an athlete can return.
Trainers are also responsible for reporting concussions to the IHSAA through a password-protected website.
In total, 12 “concussive events” were reported during the fall sports season at SIAC schools. Mater Dei, with four, had the most. For comparison, 33 schools throughout the state logged at least 12 or more. South Bend Adams had the most, with 39.
This data was part of a comprehensive list compiled by the IHSAA from July 1 to Nov. 30 to track concussions by school, sport, gender, playing surface, location (practice or game) and also how quickly the athlete returned to play. The numbers also include “concussive events,” where an athlete was removed as a precaution but not necessarily due to a concussion. The IHSAA will compile a similar list each sports season to study trends to help make decisions on how to better treat concussions.
Neidig said the low numbers were accurate and are a direct correlation to how this region has attacked the concussion issue.
“We’ve been very deliberate in our movement with this concussion piece,” he said. “I do feel like we try to stay in the game and are hopefully one of the leaders of the pack.”
That effort enhanced in 2012 when Indiana enacted a law that requires athletes, coaches and parents to receive educational materials that outline the risks of playing after a concussion or head injury. Likewise, athletes suspected of suffering a concussion or head injury must be removed from play at the time of the injury and can’t return until a trainer clears them.
Coaches are also required to pass a concussion program that teaches them about recognizing concussion symptoms and provides them protocol on how to handle a potentially concussed athlete.
Cox said Indiana drew from existing IHSAA policies when creating those laws.
Locally, Saltzman credited Neidig with being out in front of the issue.
“Because the EVSC has been so helpful, our system is ahead of most places,” Saltzman said. “Having said that, I’d say there’s still a lot we can do. But the big advantage here is that a very high percentage of the high school athletes have baseline neurocognitive testing.”
Saltzman would like to see the program expanded to surrounding areas.
“Some of the surrounding schools are up to speed, some aren’t,” he said. “Schools like Mount Vernon, Tecumseh, Boonville have done testing in the past. They have athletic trainers who are aware of this.”
Evansville and Indiana are examples of areas that noticed a trend and made sweeping changes to tackle it over the past several years. It still might not be enough.
All it takes is one athlete from years ago claiming they’re still suffering ill effects from inadequately treated head injuries to open up a new can of worms in Indiana similar to what the IHSA is facing.
“As much as we’ve done in Indiana, and as much as Illinois has done and everyone in this country has done, it does not make us immune from being named in a lawsuit,” Cox said.
The cost to play
Football is an expensive sport. It’s expensive to insure and expensive to outfit athletes with equipment.
For context, a Riddell Revolution football helmet costs between $200 and $300. That could mean upwards of $21,000 just for helmets for a team consisting of about 70 players. Neidig said helmets are replaced almost every year. Shoulder pads are roughly another $300 per player.
Add in junior varsity and freshman teams, and that total price only grows.
Some equipment, such as helmets and pads, is paid for by the school’s athletic budget, which is made up of ticket sales, booster donations and other funding. Other items, such as cleats or gloves, comes out of pocket for athletes or their parents.
As far as insurance goes, the EVSC has liability insurance for itself. When parents sign a release for their child to play, they must have insurance for their children.
Only when medical bills reach $80,000 does the IHSAA’s catastrophic insurance policy kick in.
“Those types of policies continue to become more and more expensive,” Neidig said. “So where that will end up in the future, who knows?”
The ImPACT baseline test, for all its merits, is most effective when it complements other procedures such as a post-injury exam and a full medical evaluation, said Jim Gyurke, chief marketing officer of ImPACT.
Those extra tests costs money.
Unlike the baseline test, the post-injury test isn’t covered by the money from St. Vincent. Either school insurance or individual insurance typically pays for the tests. But not everyone has insurance.
Arnold said the test is billed the same way that a procedure would be billed, which can get somewhat convoluted.
Arnold and St. Vincent secured a discount from ImPACT on the post-injury tests, so he buys them at a cheaper rate of $8 compared to the standard rate of $20. Doctors such as Saltzman then buy the tests from Arnold and determine how much to charge the patient. Sometimes athletes may require multiple post-injury tests before returning to play.
That’s even more money.
Arnold estimated that St. Vincent purchased 10,000-12,000 post-injury tests for the state of Indiana in 2014.
For some, that added cost might draw a red flag. But Gyurke disagreed. He used a poor school with 500 athletes as an example.
“If you were to buy a package of 500 from us, it would cost you less than $800,” he said. “There’s no way, in my opinion, that a school district can’t come up with $800 for a school. They could have a bake sale if they wanted to and raise $800.
“To blame it on the fact that they’re going to get rid of football because of $800 is ridiculous.”
ImPACT’s most expensive package of $1,200 covers 800 baseline tests and 100 post-injury tests. Baseline tests on their own cost about $5 per person.
St. Vincent has made such a significant commitment to the ImPACT program that Arnold doesn’t anticipate the hospital ceasing funding for baseline tests. He did, however, say he wishes another hospital would partner to share the cost.
Neidig is hopeful that the program will continue to be funded for many years.
“Is there a time when testing could get to a point to where it’s prohibited without funding from the state? I mean, I hope not,” he said. “If things continue to rise — liability insurance, so on and so forth — it could.”
So does all of this spell an imminent end to football, particularly at the high school level?
At least one Evansville coach doesn’t think so.
“I do think the face of our game is changing and will continue to change until we can provide a sport that’s safe for everyone in everyone’s eyes,” Reitz coach Andy Hape said. “The problem with football is it’s an impact sport and it’s dangerous. I think most people who play the game know that.”
He compared it to driving a car.
“It’s all in how you look at it,” he said. “I really believe that as long as we’re educated and as long as the coaches that are working with your players are educated, I think football is one of the safer sports out there as far as concussions go.”
Derrick Gordon keeps a photo of him and his fraternal twin brother Darryl in his dorm room. In his locker at Diddle Arena sits another, similar picture of the two.
It’s how the star freshman keeps his mind focused on his brother throughout the day.
“When I look at that picture, I just kind of sit there and think, and I get emotional,” he said. “I know he could have been at the same place that I’m at playing basketball and going to school, and it’s not happening because of the situation he’s in.”
Derrick has dedicated his basketball career to Darryl, who was put in prison at the age of 16.
In May 2009, an incident arose in a Plainfield, N.J., neighborhood between Darryl and another man. Derrick said another neighborhood kid had been “picking on” Darryl for several weeks, making fun of him for things like his short stature, and it hit its boiling point on this particular day.
The other man knocked Darryl’s hat off his head, not fearing any retaliation from Darryl, even though Derrick said Darryl had a temper problem.
The other man showed a knife, so Darryl pulled out a gun and shot the man several times in his chest from point-blank range.
It required him to have open heart surgery, and Derrick said he’s still not sure how the man survived.
Darryl was arrested and charged with attempted murder and sentenced to five years, one month and six days in prison.
Derrick received the news during basketball practice when he was 16 years old.
“I was shocked. I was just stunned,” he said. “It was just hard to believe because my family isn’t in to all that — violence and getting arrested and stuff like that.”
When Derrick takes the court this season in his first year at WKU, he’ll don No. 5 — the number his brother wore when he was a basketball player.
On the left side of Derrick’s chest is a tattoo that reads “M.B.K.,” which stands for “My Brother’s Keeper.” On the right inside of his arm reads another that says “HOPE and FAITH,” and on the left side reads “FAMILY FOREVER.”
Derrick said Darryl is his main source of motivation and is what drives him to work harder each day.
“I’m basically just working hard and trying to make it to that next level so that when he gets out, he has something to come home to,” Derrick said. “Everything I do right now is for him — on and off the court.”
Derrick’s dream was for his basketball career to continue with Darryl’s. In middle school, though they were both still young and underdeveloped, it looked as if that might be a possibility. Derrick said he and Darryl started receiving interest from the same colleges about basketball.
Derrick’s father, Mike Gordon, said Darryl, a point guard, was the more athletic one of the two when they were both younger, and it stayed that way for a while.
“I would tell the school that the only way I’m coming is if he was coming,” Derrick said. “At the same time, Western Kentucky was looking for a point guard. It could have worked out real perfectly.”
But several things changed once the two got to high school. Derrick grew to 6-foot-3 while Darryl topped out at 5-foot-5.
Derrick grew into a quiet, somewhat introverted personality while Darryl became more outgoing, Mike said.
The biggest change came when Derrick said he wanted to go to St. Patrick High School instead of Plainfield High School where Darryl was going.
Derrick was attracted by St. Patrick’s nationally-regarded basketball program. In the past five years, three St. Patrick players were named McDonald’s All-Americans and went on to play at major Division I college basketball programs Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
At first, St. Patrick’s basketball coach Kevin Boyle wasn’t on board with Derrick’s decision.
“He came as an eighth grader and he was dying to go to St. Pat’s. Personally I didn’t think he was good enough,” Boyle said. “He called, and called, and called, and called. He was always a hard worker and had a lot of self confidence in his game.”
But Derrick enrolled at St. Patrick. It was the first time he and Darryl had ever really been separated for a long period of time.
Darryl continued his basketball career at Plainfield High School, but never reached the level of success that Derrick experienced.
Darryl began trading his practice time for other activities. He got mixed up with a rough crowd and started hanging out on the streets.
Mike Gordon said he and his wife Sandra started blaming themselves for Darryl going down the wrong path.
“As a father it’s like, people are always giving you credit for the good job you’re doing with the kids when they do well,” he said. “On the other side, they tell you, ‘We know you did everything you could. It’s not your fault.’
“But then it’s like, how could you take credit for the positive stuff, but not take the blame for the negative stuff?”
Derrick put blame of what happened to Darryl on his shoulders.
“I tried to talk to him, but I didn’t talk to him as much as I could have,” Derrick said. “I could have done a lot more to prevent the situation, but things happen for a reason.”
Derrick had trouble opening up to people in the aftermath of it all. The heartache that he was feeling about missing his brother was kept bottled up inside.
“I stayed to myself,” he said. “I just didn’t want to talk about that whole situation because it hurt me so much inside.”
Derrick then went through a three- to four-month period when he wasn’t eating enough. His mother Sandra didn’t call it depression, but said he was visibly hurting and lost a lot of weight.
The teachers at St. Patrick had no idea what was causing it.
“No one knew,” she said. “I went there one day because the guys wanted to talk to me and I just had to come out with it. Then Derrick — that’s when he really started to open up. I always told him if you talk about it, you’ll feel better.
“They were real close. They did everything together. It was like taking half of him away.”
Boyle said it got so bad at one point that Derrick considered transferring from St. Patrick to Plainfield High School to be closer to home.
“To his mom’s credit, she made him stay,” he said. “That was a life-changing decision for him.”
Derrick eventually got to visit Darryl, and they exchanged letters back and forth. Once that happened, Derrick slowly regained the weight he lost.
And when he finally saw Darryl again, Sandra said his face “lit up.”
“He just smiled,” she said. “They just laughed and talked and he was just so happy. After that he went on to school and things just started getting better for him.”
Fast forward to Derrick’s senior year of high school at St. Patrick. He had already signed his National Letter of Intent to play at WKU, but this was still a chance for him to make a name for himself.
After what Boyle called a “horrible” preseason, Gordon responded with 37 points against Chicago’s Whitney Young High School at the City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla.
Derrick emerged as one of the key players on St. Patrick’s team last season, the second leading scorer behind Michael Gilchrist.
But there were times throughout the season when thoughts of Darryl would creep back into Derrick’s mind. Boyle had to balance being a tough coach while also being understanding of the fragile emotional state that Derrick found himself in occasionally.
HBO made a documentary on St. Patrick’s 2010-2011 season entitled “Prayer for a Perfect Season,” — set to air Tuesday — and Boyle said there’s a scene that shows him trying to make that balance, although it could seem a little harsh because only a clip of the conversation was shown.
His message was that while he and the team understood what Derrick is going through, they still had a job at hand — to win basketball games.
“One day you’re going to go to work and your boss is going to feel bad about something in your life,” Boyle said. “But at a certain point, you need to be accountable to him and the rest of the team, or they just can’t carry you if you can’t handle it.
“It was that type of message. We can’t keep putting you on the court if you’re not producing.”
Gordon has now had a few months to get acquainted with Bowling Green, which is roughly 850 miles from his home in Plainfield, N.J.
He hasn’t seen his brother since May, and he’s not sure when he’ll be able to next. Darryl moved from a youth correctional facility in Bordentown, N.J., nearly two hours from Derrick’s home to South Woods State Prison.
He knows he’ll see him eventually and is counting the days until Sept. 30, 2014 — the day that Darryl is set to be released from prison.
But until then, Derrick’s life and basketball career are focused on what his brother last said to him.
“He just wants to see me succeed,” Derrick said. “He knows how badly I like to win and how bad I want to get to the next level. He told me that, no matter what, just stay focused and play hard.
“When he told me that, I stuck by it. Now I’m just on a mission right now. I’m sure a lot of people see that.”
This story was originally published in the College Heights Herald on Oct. 25, 2011.