Did she make her dad proud? No doubt about it

The final seven words Ady Wintermote spoke amidst the tears and heartbreak pierced my soul, and in that moment I was no longer a sports writer. I was a dad who had a vision of a road I hope to be on eight years from now with my own daughter.

I just hope I made him proud.

That’s what she said before the emotions of the moment overtook her. I just stared at her, waiting for the lump in my throat to subside, but for one of the few times in my life, words failed me. I finally mumbled something that was probably incoherent before I stepped away and quickly made my escape from the Manson-Northwest Webster gymnasium Tuesday night.

It had absolutely nothing to do with sports, and yet it had everything to do with sports. The finest prep volleyball career I have ever covered ended in that unfamiliar gymnasium and Wintermote, South Hamilton’s shining star, was crushed. She’ll never wear that Hawks jersey again. She’ll never play volleyball for her dad, head coach Rusty Wintermote, again. Which pill was tougher to swallow? I’d call it a draw.

“He’s a great coach and he’s my biggest role model,” Ady Wintermote said when I first asked her about serving as the team leader under her dad’s tutelage. “I’ve loved playing for him.”

I’m supposed to stay neutral at all times in this profession. Never get too close, the journalism code screams. But I’ve got two daughters myself, and when the story turns to a father-daughter relationship that has a chance to have the fairy tale ending, to hell with the code.

So, yeah, I wanted South Hamilton to beat Unity Christian Tuesday night. The Hawks deserved it. Ady Wintermote deserved it. So did her dad. But sports don’t always work out the way we hope. Unity Christian most certainly had the same drive and, as it turned out, a little more talent en route to a 3-1 victory in the Class 2A Region 2 final.

There’s no shame in losing. South Hamilton’s players and coaches should have been inconsolable. It meant the match and season were important to them.

But as I sat in my vehicle tweeting out Ady Wintermote’s final few words, I wasn’t thinking about the match or the Hawks season. My thoughts were on my own girls, 10-year-old Taylor and 6-year-old Brooklyn, and how much I yearn to hear them say those same seven words to me sometime in the future.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love sports. It was just a volleyball match, one of many around the state that night, and yet it took on such a more significant meaning when I least expected it.

As for Ady Wintermote’s career at South Hamilton, it’s second to none. She’s the only Hawk to ever reach 1,000 career kills – she finished with a robust total of 1,112 – to go along with 829 digs, 232 blocks and 125 ace serves. She will undoubtedly earn all-state honors in the coming weeks and if she doesn’t, then the all-state teams aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

She started for four years and was the Hawks best player at all times. The front row, the back row, she excelled at both. Her senior campaign will be remembered for the single-season school record 432 kills she smacked, but her leadership and ability to bring out the best in her teammates were even more invaluable. She wasn’t the only reason why South Hamilton put together a 25-6 record and reached the regional final round for just the third time ever, but she certainly played the largest role.

At 5-foot-10, Ady Wintermote was almost never the tallest girl on the court. But very few adversaries were able to match her power and athleticism, two features that will serve her well when she suits up for Kirkwood Community College next fall.

Still, she wasn’t ready to move on to the next leg of her journey. In a way, she felt like she’d failed. I opted against explaining to her why she was so wrong.

“I just wish I could have left a bigger mark,” she said, referring to the Hawks’ inability to qualify for the state tournament. “But it’s been an honor and I just hope that I helped build the program.”

No, Ady, it’s been our honor to watch you play. And no one has left an imprint on the program the way you have, not in my 17 years of covering it anyway.

I still couldn’t get those final seven words out of my head though, and that’s why I gave Rusty Wintermote a call yesterday afternoon to get a response to his daughter’s statement. No breaking news here; the answer was obvious.

“The thing I never worried about was her making me happy because she always worked hard and she was always a good teammate,” he said. “When I read that (on Twitter) it made me tear up … she always made me proud.”

Seeing our children succeed, there’s no greater joy than that. Yes, South Hamilton lost the volleyball match Tuesday night, but getting to spend each fall afternoon and evening together as father and daughter, coach and player, it’s not a stretch to see how Ady and Rusty Wintermote won in the end.