It takes only a few steps to get from the sidewalk to the front door of Marna and Leroy Sanders’ home, where they have lived for more than 40 years on a quiet corner in North Vernon.
That’s apropos since the Sanders, now in their 80s, are always on the go.
Instead of sitting on the couch, absorbed in “Gunsmoke” reruns, the Sanders plan their entertainment schedule around Jennings County High School sports.
They have been doing so before Richard Nixon was president, and they aren’t about to change now.
Tonight, Marna and Leroy will get into their car and drive to Seymour High School for Jennings County’s 7:30 p.m. game against New Albany even though their kids aren’t real keen about them driving at night.
Leroy has his usual response: “I taught them how to drive.”
And so they go.
They aren’t about to miss tonight’s game, since their grandson, Bailey Sanders, arguably is the Panthers’ top player. Bailey has his hands full since New Albany has beaten Jennings County once this season and will be the favorite again.
Every sectional basketball season, Marna puts together posters and banners and hangs them from the front of her home.
“I’ve been making the banners for years,” Marna said. “It passes the time, and we have no kids at home.”
Marna knows a thing or two about basketball. In one window of her home hangs a poster that says, “Time for a Miracle.” Another reads, “Believe in Blue.”
The big sheet that hangs from a rafter has a big basketball painted on it. It’s not a big town, fewer than 7,000 residents, so Marna just puts the first names of the Panthers and their corresponding numbers on the sheet. Everybody knows Bailey and Hunter and Jonah.
Everybody knows Marna and Leroy, too, because when it comes to local sporting events, they are there.
As coaches try to teach their players about more than just sports fundamentals, trying to carve out better men and women, Marna and Leroy could teach adults about the importance of support.
“We haven’t missed (one of Bailey’s games) from the third grade up,” Marna said.
Since his grandparents always are there for him, Bailey returns the favor.
“Bailey drives over every day for lunch,” Marna said. “(Wednesday) we had turkey sandwiches and mac and cheese. Every game day, we have spaghetti and garlic bread.”
Leroy enjoys that time.
“There are a lot of grandparents who sit at home and their grandkids never come by,” he said. “I think they would be a little jealous.”
Sports has been a family affair for them a long time. Marna rattled off their children who went to Jennings County High School and played sports. “Randy, Rik, Rusty, Ronny, Tammy, Rodney, Roger and Rex.”
Why there wasn’t a Roberta or Rebecca instead of Tammy, well, your guess is as good as mine. It should be noted that Bailey’s parents are Rodney and, of course, Rhonda.
All of Leroy and Marna’s children played basketball and baseball at Jennings County except for Tammy, who played softball and was a cheerleader.
“Let me tell you, I don’t think there’s been seven brothers who all played basketball and baseball at the same high school in Indiana, or even the country,” said Leroy, who wasn’t an athlete when he graduated from Versailles High School in 1947. “My wife was responsible. She liked sports, and I’m glad they did, too.”
Well, I’m sure there have been seven or more brothers who matched the Sanders, but Leroy’s pride was evident.
Why not? It’s been a great run for Leroy and Marna, and one that almost didn’t happen.
“I’m from Kansas,” Marna said. “I had come here to meet a man at Camp Atterbury, but he had left. I met Leroy. I never went back.”
They surrounded themselves with family and good times.
“I’ve never been much on the pros,” Leroy said. “I enjoy watching the kids play. I like the competitiveness and that some of them get better and some of them don’t. It is a mix of life.”
With his eyesight intact, he doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon. He hopes that other grandparents share the same enthusiasm. “If they aren’t going, I would say to them, ‘You are missing life.’ Life can be kind of dull for us old people. But that’s where the spice of life is at. It’s good, clean fun, and it’s the cheapest entertainment in town.”
As their children have moved away, Leroy and Marna even have faced the fact that their loyalty might have to be spread around. Their grandson Zach Sanders is a freshman at Columbus East. Could there be an orange banner in their future?
“Yep,” Leroy said. “But I probably will have to hang it on the side of the house.”
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.