We often evaluate our high school sports team coaches by their number of victories, so we tend to forget they also serve in the role of teacher.
When the Columbus East boys basketball team takes the floor tonight at 7:30 p.m. against East Central for the Shelbyville Sectional, some of the best work done by head coach Brent Chitty will be represented by a guy who won’t even be in uniform.
Senior Lee Enkoff, sporting his trademark bow tie, will be keeping East’s statistics at court-side, not exactly the job he would have liked on game day.
His junior year, Enkoff was going to be a key player for the Olympians. Then his high school athletics career came to a screeching halt.
“It was our sixth game (against Franklin County), a year ago in January,” Enkoff said. “I was dribbling, and I went to cut to the basket. I put all my weight on my right leg, and my knee shifted. I thought my kneecap had popped out of place. About a week later, when the swelling went down, I found out that I had a torn ACL.”
Discouraging yes, but Enkoff was committed to working his way back into shape for his senior season.
Enkoff did five months of rehabilitation and went back to the court in May. During an open gym workout, he shifted his weight to his right leg, again, the ACL tore at the same spot.
“It was just freak bad luck,” Enkoff said. “That 1 percent chance.”
Obviously, he was devastated. No way was he going to be able to play for the Olympians his senior year. His high school athletics career was over.
Chitty saw Enkoff was hurting, and he tried to think of some way to help.
“He had been a guy who would have been a starter or sixth man for us,” Chitty said. “He was real athletic, a quick guard. I knew he had to have another surgery, and he was such a class act. So I said, ‘Would you mind doing our stats for us?’”
Chitty could have found someone else to do statistics, but he had another plan.
“We wanted him around our guys,” Chitty said. “He had earned our players’ respect on the floor and their friendship. They love him, and they consider him part of the team.”
Enkoff didn’t see himself hanging out at games with no uniform.
“At first, I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “Right after I re-injured myself, I wanted to get away. I was angry and upset. I didn’t want all those memories, me sitting on the sidelines. Why am I here?
“But it grew into a good thing.”
Enkoff decided to do the statistics, and if he was going to do the job, he was going to do it right.
“We turned it over to him,” Chitty said. “He made it part of his senior project. He goes through every game film, and there are no shenanigans. Then he reports it to MaxPreps. He takes a lot of pride in it.”
Although Enkoff doesn’t get to play, he is around the game, and team, he loves.
“It has been really tough,” Enkoff said. “I wish I was a part of what they are doing. They’ve had a really good season, and I enjoy watching my friends play. I hope they make it out (of the sectional).
“But I do feel like I am part of the team. I ride the bus, sit on the bench, I’m in the locker room every game. It’s not like last year, where I had a jersey and my shoes on, but I still get excited. These are my best friends, and when Coach Chitty is yelling at them, I feel like he is mad at me, too.”
Enkoff is headed to Indiana University to major in finance. He knows his competitive athletics career might be over, but he hopes to stay active and perhaps put more time into his golf game.
“He was a nice, little player,” Chitty said. “He could shoot it, and he could dunk. But he was humble. He would never tell you he was a good player.”
Enkoff laughed at Chitty’s comment.
“I can’t dunk anymore,” he said.
What he can do is smile, which leads us back to Chitty offering him a job to keep him around the team.
Think that move was about numbers or another teaching moment, for all of us?
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.