Winning a state championship is an athlete’s dream, but the journey toward that goal and how a player responds to challenges is equally memorable.
The Columbus East football team showed the character of a champion, even if the hardware it brought home this time was the second-place trophy.
The Olympians competed for a second football state championship in four seasons — and the program’s third overall — when they faced Westfield in the Class 5A title game Nov. 26 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game was closely contested and went down to the wire, with East falling just short, 16-13.
Throughout the season, East showed why it is one of the better football programs in the state.
Junior Josh Major, the team’s starting quarterback and punter, missed two full games and half of another because of a concussion. Still, the Olympians plowed through the Hoosier Hills Conference for a 10th straight outright league title, including 70 consecutive conference victories.
Despite competing in a class higher than its enrollment size, due to past success in Class 4A, the Olympians won sectional, regional and semistate titles en route to a 13-2 finish this year.
Equally important, the players demonstrated class throughout the journey, which made them all the more fun for East backers and football fans in general to support. A caravan of more than 60 vehicles and 150 fans sent the Olympians off to Lucas Oil Stadium nearly four hours before kickoff. Even more impressive, about 500 fans gathered at East’s gymnasium at about midnight to welcome home the squad and congratulate the players on an impressive season.
Among those welcomed was senior Harry Crider, an offensive lineman who won the IHSAA 5A Eskew Mental Attitude Award and the only player to speak during the ceremony. The honor is presented annually to a senior who demonstrates good mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletics ability. Besides excelling on the gridiron, Crider mentors freshmen, participated in Youth Leadership Bartholomew County, volunteered with Feed My Starving Children and spent about 100 hours hooked up to an IV for clinical research for diabetes.
The Olympians gave their fans — and the Columbus community — many reasons to be proud this season. Their journey was a memorable one.