It had been, as Homestead graduate Sydney Graber put it, a “hot minute” since she had been in the Spartans' gym, but she returned Tuesday to receive the Tiffany Gooden Award from its namesake.
“These past couple months have been a little bit frustrating, because it's not that normal senior experience that you think of, but I've been using it to motivate myself and get better, work harder and get ready for college in any way I can, and I think it's been helping my overall game,” Graber said. “Seeing all these friendly, familiar faces, it's really exciting for me, and it's giving me a homey feeling to be reunited with everyone that has made my senior year so fun and given me so many memories.”
Graber averaged 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in her senior season as the Spartans went 26-2 and reached the regional final. While she was shaking hands with Gooden, Homestead assistant Kara Ankenbruck urged Graber to listen to whatever Gooden said, write it down and look back at it every day.
“She was just telling me that she's loved watching me develop as a player over the years,” Graber said. “But through basketball, you're able to build a platform for yourself and get all these opportunities to become much more than a basketball player, so use my platform to make a difference in the world and keep on being a positive influence in the community.”
Graber said she isn't quite sure what she wants to do once she arrives at Central Michigan, and isn't sure when she and her future teammates and classmates will be arriving on campus.
“That situation is all over the place, because Michigan is just opening,” Graber said. “It was supposed to be June 15, which obviously didn't happen. But as of now, maybe July 17. If not, Aug. 17.”
Gooden, the legendary former Snider player who starred at Iowa, also experienced a little of upheaval due to coronavirus shutdowns. She was to be inducted to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in April, but the ceremony had to be pushed back to October. Gooden, an attorney based in Indianapolis, also had to balance her work and son's fourth-grade distance learning curriculum.
“She's going to have to do what she can do, control what she can control. Workout like you would if you were on campus and stay ready,” Gooden said of Graber.
“I know it wasn't the ideal conditions (for an award ceremony), but there was no way I wasn't going to come up here to do this. Sydney had a great, great year, and I'm really proud of her, and I think she's going to do a great job at Central Michigan.”
Homestead coach Rod Parker and Ankenbruck, who was the interim coach while Parker underwent treatment for cancer last winter, also received their awards as the SAC Coaches of the Year, as did rising junior Ayanna Patterson, who was named to the All-SAC and All-Northeast Indiana first teams. Other Homestead players honored as All-NEI and All-SAC players, but not in attendance, were Rylie Parker and Luke Goode.
“I think this year really taught the girls on the team, and me as well, that when you face adversity you have to face it head-on, you have to have determination,” Ankenbruck said. “We followed the lead of coach Parker. He faced his adversity and his health issues with great determination, so we did as well. When we went into the pandemic, we took that same approach as a Homestead family.
“It would have been great to have a year without all this adversity, but of course now that we can look back it did make us stronger, and appreciate all the good times.”
Parker said the last six months, between his cancer diagnosis and treatment, and the pandemic, have been difficult. He's glad it is all behind him, but the shutdown, especially, gave the family time that is hard to come by usually.
“It was different, and frustrating at the beginning. But once you realized it's just a way of life right now, for a short period of time and that everyone is in that boat, you really look to find the things you've overlooked,” he said. “And a lot of that is time, and the ability to take bike rides, walks, family dinners and those things with our nucleus of five.”