Ending The Silence: Healthy Hester hopes to finally be able to play in Silent Night game

Taylor University’s men’s basketball program has gained national and international fame over the past few years for its annual “Silent Night” game.

Although he has been a member of the Trojans team the past three years, Bailey Hester hasn’t had a chance to play in a Silent Night game. But when Taylor hosts Lincoln Christian on Dec. 10, the senior from Columbus North is hoping to finally be a part of the tradition from a playing standpoint.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hester said. “It also happens to be my birthday, so that will be cool for me, especially being my last year.”

After playing in eight games as a freshman, Hester has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons. The summer before his sophomore year, he began experiencing pain in his lower legs while playing in open gyms at night after helping with Taylor’s basketball camps during the day.

Hester ended up having three surgeries for compartment syndrome. Then last year, he tore a ligament in his ankle.

“It’s been a pretty rough ride for me,” Hester said. “It’s been a roller coaster. I’d have surgery and I’d get back to where I was good to go, and then I’d have pain and have to have surgery again. I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and getting back to playing again. I’m happy I stuck with it.”

Taylor coach Josh Andrews is happy Hester has stuck with it, as well.

“He is an awesome representative of our program,” Andrews said. “We pride ourselves in winning attitude, work ethic and mental toughness, and he has all three. He’s a terrific athlete. He’s a great shooter, and he’s just been hampered with all kinds of unusual setbacks. As a coach, I’m grateful and have great respect for his perseverance. He’s been a model of resolve and just staying the course, especially what he’s dealt with. He’s still at this time getting it all back. For him to be with us and going at it right now is just a real blessing. (Silent Night is) such an unusual and incredible game and event, and it will be nice that he will be able to be a part of that.”

Taylor’s Silent Night tradition dates back to the late 1980s, when students began attending the game in pajamas. The event is scheduled for the first Friday before finals week each December.

Beginning in 1997, Trojans fans remained silent from the time the game starts until they score their 10th point.

“The atmosphere is unbelievable,” Hester said. “There’s nothing like it. When the 10th point is scored, everybody gets real crazy, and they storm the court.”

Taylor is 22-1 all-time in Silent Night games. The Trojans won their first 21 of those contests before falling to Grace Christian in 2018. Taylor beat Ohio-Chillicothe the following year, and last year’s Silent Night game was cancelled because of COVID-19.

At the end of the game, the students sing “Silent Night” in unison. After the game, they attend a university-sponsored Christmas party.

“I like to tell people Taylor is such a connected community, and we like to pride ourselves on that,” Andrews said. “That game personifies that. You have a campus that shuts down for this event, and the students are what make it go. How they dress up and do all the different things and the chants and the traditions that go on during the game, and we’re just happy to be a part of the event. It’s a major part of the Taylor experience. To say it’s a big deal would be an understatement.”

Hester plans to graduate in May with degrees in business marketing and management. He is looking at two grad schools Georgia and UCLA.

For now, Hester is making the most of his final season of organized basketball. He said he’s been mostly pain free since this summer.

“I’ve been out so long, it’s just a matter of getting back into things and getting all my instincts back and remember how to play again basically,” Hester said. “It’s hard to replicate 5-on-5 outside of basketball practice. I’ve been doing a lot of workouts on my own.”

Although he’s played in only two games for the 4-5 Trojans, Hester is hopeful that he can get more court time as the season goes on.

“I think there’s a good chance for me to see some more time in the future,” Hester said. “I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and keep after it and getting the guys in front of me better. It’s just a matter of time.”