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And Another Thing

File | The Journal Gazette

The joy of second chances

So it's almost March now, and they're coming to Wayne Kreiger again, the digital recorders and reporter's notebooks, the cold flat stare of the minicams. They ask him how this feels, and he smiles. They ask him if he ever saw this, even in his dreams, and he smiles again.

"I feel so blessed," he says.

And, yes, that is the right word for this, exactly. A man could rummage around in the dictionary for a long time and not find a more appropriate one, not after 34 years and 544 Ws, not after walking away from that first seat on the bench thinking the glory days were done.

"Having been in the game a long time, and having had the opportunity to go down and play for a state championship previously, I didn't envision I would be in this position a year ago," said Kreiger this week, as he prepared to take Canterbury's girls to Terre Haute for another state-finals showdown with Vincennes Rivet.

But, like they say, stuff happens. Kreiger's son, Scott, who'd coached the Canterbury girls to 1A four state titles in five years -- two of them with his dad riding shotgun as an assistant -- moved over to the boys side. And Wayne inherited a girls team not just primed but overwhelmingly favored to make another title run.

Cosmic stuff for a man who had his one shot with Columbia City in 2000, and lost the 3A title game by 14 to Indianapolis Cathedral.

Kreiger coached 10 years after that, but never again coaxed the lightning into the bottle. There was a lot of 12-10 and 11-10 and 13-9 and 12-11 in there, plus a couple of 15-7s. There was even, two years after the state finals run, a 17-6 campaign.

But Kreiger never got Columbia City out of the sectional again, losing five times to Carroll alone. Finally he dropped the reins to go help out Scott, a semi-retired coaching legend who knew all too well the truth of things: When you get to the top run of the ladder, give it your all, because you may never make it back.

Now, wonder of wonders, he's made it back. And if there's such a thing as basketball gods, no more concrete evidence of their benevolence exists, because no more peerless a coach or decent a man as Wayne Kreiger ever breathed air.

"It's a great feeling," he said this week, as the notebooks and recorders and minicams hovered. "I feel very blessed I had the opportunity to work with this group of kids. It's really thrilling and really enjoyable for me."

Ben Smith's blog.