The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 10, 2020 1:00 am

Fans favorite jerseys

Jerseys worn with pride

There are many reasons fans treasure them

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Several weeks ago on Facebook and Twitter, we asked sports fans what their favorite jerseys are and for the personal stories behind them. Here are a fraction of the results:

Amber Fiedler

On Dec. 3, 2018, at age 32, Fiedler was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and she spent more than half of 2019 receiving treatment.

“I love going to TinCaps games, and I knew even before the season started that the one thing I wanted was a pink jersey from that year, the year I was battling breast cancer,” she said.

She bid on one at the team's annual “Turn the Park Pink” event to raise money for Vera Bradley, and chose Nick Kuzia's No. 11 because on June 11, 2019, she had surgery to remove what was left of the tumor and four lymph nodes, two of which were cancerous.

When Fiedler completed her treatment, on Aug. 30, she proudly wore her pink TinCaps jersey and pink shoes to ring the bell signifying the end of her treatment at Parkview Cancer Institute. She hit the bell with a foam bat, of course. It was a home run!

Kenny Barr

A couple of years ago, Barr's three grown children gave him a Kevin Kiermaier Tampa Bay Rays home jersey for his birthday. What's so special about that other than the centerfielder is a Bishop Luers graduate?

Barr was his Little League coach at New Haven's Moser Park for three years. He still drives to Detroit or Chicago each summer to watch Kiermaier play.

Darrin Wright

In 1995, Wright's sister, who was less than a year old, was a patient in Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, undergoing cancer treatments. The Rams had just moved to town and were about to start their first season in St. Louis. Running back and former Notre Dame star Jerome Bettis came to visit the patients and their families.

“My grandma and sister met him, but I had just left for the day,” Wright recalls. “I was pretty bummed that I missed him.”

Well, he was only 13 at the time, and it was a school night. Bettis gave the family a jersey, one that Wright still has in a shadowbox in his home.

Unfortunately, Wright's sister did not survive, but he uses her memory as motivation for an annual fundraiser for Children's Miracle Network hospitals.

Aaron Eamer

Though he lives in Bristol, England, Eamer reached out to tell about his love for a Reggie Miller jersey. When he was 16 years old in 2004 and his mother was getting married, Eamer got stuck in a Las Vegas hotel room watching basketball on TV and said whoever won the game would be his new favorite team. The Pacers beat the Nets, and he was hooked. He's even got Reggie's name and other Pacers' names tattooed on his right arm.

He's visited Indianapolis three times, and came to Fort Wayne once to see the Mad Ants play.

Michelle Wittekind

During the 1970s in particular, the Fort Wayne Komets Legends used to play exhibition games for charity. One time they even played the Detroit Red Wings alumni. Fast-forward more than 25 years and Wittekind was given a No. 16 jersey.

“I often look at it and remember when I would watch (No. 16) skate,” she said. “I would get chills from excitement. It took me back to when the man who wore this would put me on his shoulders and skate around the rink. Now that was like 50 years ago, and this was an old-timer.”

What made the jersey so special? It was designed by her mother Gayle and worn by her father Eddie Long, who is still her hero.

Archer Murphy

Archer is only 9, but he already has an all-time jersey story. The Murphy family has always been big fans of the Purdue Fort Wayne men's basketball program.

“My kids think of the players as celebrities, and because of the autograph session after many games, they have befriended some of the players through the years,” said Archer's mom, Jill.

The four Archer children also attend PFW sports camps, and during the 2018 summer Archer's coach was John Konchar. When his dad dropped him off, Archer would always run up to Konchar and pick up the previous day's conversation. The friendship continued through the 2018-19 season and on Senior Night, Archer gave Konchar a T-shirt that said, “Archer Murphy is my Best Friend.” After the season ended, Archer and Konchar wrote back and forth, and after Konchar helped the Memphis Grizzlies win the Las Vegas Summer League title, a package came in the mail. Konchar had sent a game-worn Memphis jersey.

“Archer still wears it on a weekly basis. It is still his favorite,” Jill said. “Between him and his brother Finn, he has several (store-bought) jerseys – Jordan, Bird, Bryant, Curry – not one of those compares to that Konchar jersey! It is his most-prized possession!”

Kevin Allison

When Igor Chibirev came to Fort Wayne in 1992, he was a sensation as the first Russian to play for the Komets. To celebrate, Allison acquired a jersey Chibirev wore in the Spengler Cup, the world's oldest invitational tournament which has been held in Sweden since 1923. With help from Komets public address announcer Larry Schmitt, Allison presented the jersey for an autograph.

“He didn't speak much but got a big smile on his face when he recognized the jersey,” Allison said.

Teresa Beck

The first one she ever purchased was her favorite. Beck, a life-long Komets season-ticket holder, paid $80 in a charity auction back in the day for the jersey of her favorite player, Robbie Laird. She was even more excited when Laird signed it.

One day her brother convinced her to let him wear the jersey when he played hockey at a local rink with some of his buddies. Unfortunately, she never saw the jersey again, though he swears he gave it back.

“I've never forgiven him to this day!” she said.

Well, she knows what to ask for this Christmas.

Sandy Clark

After moving to Chicago in 2001, Sandy Clark and her husband Jerry became big Chicago Blackhawks fans. Her favorite player was Tony Amonte who wore No. 10, and she once purchased an authentic jersey to show her support.

One day at Navy Pier, a few blocks from where they lived, Amonte and another player held an autograph session, and she waited in line for hours. After it was announced the session had ended, Amonte said he'd sign one more jersey as long as it was authentic – and Sandy was next up!

Shaun Tackett

Because he was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, Tackett has always dealt with disabilities, but he has also always fought for his independence.

During 2010, Komets defenseman and part-time Fort Wayne Firefighter Kevin Bertram donated one of his jerseys to a local charity fundraiser, and another Fort Wayne Firefighter, Ty Reed, won the bid and gave the jersey to Tackett.

“At the time, I was on disability and not able to afford a jersey, so when Ty gave that to me it brought tears to my eyes,” Tackett said. “It's a jersey that has a lot more meaning to me than just Komets hockey and I'll never part with it.”

Tackett now works at Zimmer Biomet.

Andrea Richardville

An amateur artist at the time who now works as an X-ray tech who draws on the side, Richardville met Colts star defensive linemen Robert Mathis in the summer of 2014. After he autographed some artwork she had done of him, he contacted her about doing a personal project for his house which she finished in December. As a reward, he gave her an autographed copy of one of his Pro Bowl jerseys.

Jim Garigen

As a TinCaps host family since 1993, the Garigens have been blessed to house many players, but Jim's favorite jersey is not from a future Cy Young Award winner or Major League All-Star. It's former catcher Andres Pagan, who lost his playing career to a 2005 car accident.

“Andres was one of my boys when my daughters were in their early years, and he treated them like family,” Garigen said, “spent many days at the house and was in the simplest of terms, genuine! Following most home games, both he and Oliver Perez would join the family for a post-game meal.”

Pagan is now an executive with the Lake Elsinore Storm.

Elizabeth Lichtsinn

Because she's a Type 1 diabetic, when she was 9 years old Lichtsinn was introduced to fellow diabetic Komets defenseman Brent Henley.

“He was an amazing role model,” she said. “I attended a Type 1 banquet with him, and over all of this time he taught me that my disease could never hold me back. After he moved on, I kept in touch with him over email and he would send encouraging advice and motivate me to take good care of myself.”

Now, she owns two Henley jerseys.

Robert Musser

When Shawn Szydlowski scored five goals for the Komets on March 21, 2015, Musser knew he had to have that jersey which was being auctioned for prostate cancer research. The bidding finally reached $2,000 before Musser could claim his prize.

“We were not going to lose that jersey,” he said. “I'll never forget that game.”

To this day, his sons Daniel and TJ call five goals a “Syd-trick.”

Malcolm MacMillan

Several TinCaps fans mentioned their favorites as of players who made it to the Major Leagues. By far, though, the jersey that received the most responses was the June 13, 2013 uniform that celebrated “Social Media Night.” The jersey featured more than 6,000 handles of the team's Twitter followers.

Maybe just as important, it was a chance for all those fans to get something of their name on a minor league baseball jersey. We picked MacMillan to represent all those fans lucky enough to get one because he wrote about the jersey at his baseball travel blog

“When I was a kid, I dreamed that one day my name would be on a professional baseball jersey,” MacMillan wrote. “It took a while, but it finally happened!”

Jim Steeg

When 1968 Snider High School graduate Jim Steeg joined the Miami Dolphins as an accountant in 1975, he developed a friendship with receiver Freddie Solomon, a second-round draft pick that year.

“I helped him set up to save some money on taxes, and got him to buy a condo about a half a mile from my house,” Steeg said. “When he had a kidney issue, we played basketball together many a night to get him back to some degree.”

After Solomon won a Super Bowl title with San Francisco in 1982, Steeg talked him out of retirement and Solomon won another title in 1985. The next season, after the 49ers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Giants, Solomon gave Steeg his jersey, the one he wore in his last game.

Solomon died in 2012 from colon and liver cancer.

Josh Scheeler

When Scheeler and his wife were looking for a new house in the summer of 2006, they were a little surprised to meet Komets goaltender Kevin St. Pierre as their real estate agent. They were even more surprised when they found out the house they purchased was actually St. Pierre's home.

“We were a little skeptical on it was actually him or not, when we saw that he was the realtor, because we just weren't sure of his profession,” Scheeler said. “But once we met him in his office, we knew exactly who he was and immediately told him we were fans.”

St. Pierre threw in one of his jerseys as part of the deal.

Kedrick Sosenheimer

When the Komets were winning the 2008 Turner Cup, Sosenheimer, 9, was in the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital undergoing brain surgery. All three Sosenheimer brothers, including Hunter and Drake, who were 8 and 10 at the time, have a rare condition called Arnold-Chiari malformation, a structural defect at the base of the brain that causes high pressure in the spinal fluid, headaches and other balance problems. Before his surgery to implant a shunt, Kedrick told the doctor, “It's not just hockey. It's Komets hockey!”

During the season, the boys had become friendly with Komets winger Matt Reynolds, even giving him a birthday cake after one game. Still, they were shocked when Reynolds showed up in Chicago a couple of days after the Cup-clinching win.

He also brought a jersey to give to Kedrick.

“It is a personal favorite because he did a lot of stuff for my family,” Hunter Sosenheimer said. “Being there to surprise my brother after his brain surgery was amazing!”

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