The power of com­mu­nity strikes again in New­ton County

The Covington News - - SPORTS & LIVING - SUN­DAY, 2B

You keep on doing it, New­ton County.

Sports, fam­ily, sup­port, love for one an­other. Self­less­ness. All of these things keep on show­ing up as com­mon themes in the Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County sports com­mu­nity. I’m pretty sure that it has al­ways been here. I’m sure it didn’t start when I showed up. But I can’t remember a place where I’ve cov­ered sports that has shown me so many ex­am­ples of this so fre­quently and so soon into my ten­ure as a sports edi­tor/sports writer.

Just sev­eral weeks ago, I was shak­ing my head at the strength of a teenage soc­cer player who showed such strength as he per­se­vered in the game he loved de­spite los­ing the fa­ther that taught him the game.

I saw a pic­ture of your strength then, New­ton County. I saw you rally around the Beam fam­ily in sup­port and give them love that seems a lit­tle more un­com­mon in the volatile and some­times down­right hate­ful cli­mate that seems to sur­round us now.

But then, last Wed­nes­day, I saw it again in liv­ing color – black and green, to be ex­act.

When I first heard of Mike Hipps, I was told that he was about as solid a fix­ture in this area’s base­ball com­mu­nity as Sean Beam was in the soc­cer com­mu­nity. But that piece of hearsay turned into ver­i­fi­able fact when I wit­nessed how Eastside High’s base­ball com­mu­nity, along with oth­ers from all across the area, came to­gether to pay homage to a man who was swiftly taken away from us.

Mike Hipps was not only a base­ball lover. He loved the kids he coached and im­pacted – not least of those, his son Michael Hipps who is a se­nior pitcher for the Ea­gles.

When the el­der Hipps fell ill to­ward the end of the last Wood­ward Academy game two Fri­days ago, even­tu­ally pass­ing away dur­ing the week­end, the swift way the Eastside base­ball com­mu­nity flew into ac­tion let me know that we were deal­ing with some­one spe­cial to the team and to the com­mu­nity as a whole.

Face­book posts from the Eastside base­ball booster club call­ing for a ral­ly­ing of sup­port elicited re­sponses from every base­ball pro­gram in New­ton County. I saw peo­ple from all three high schools and from club pro­grams, for­mer play- ers, coaches and kids who’d grown up a bit, but still re­mem­bered how Mike Hipps im­pacted their lives all post­ing their con­do­lences, their mem­o­ries and their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the kind of man he was.

Soon that kind­ness move­ment ex­panded to en­ve­lope young Michael. The hash­tag #One4Seven was born as a way to show a com­mu­nity’s sol­i­dar­ity in sup­port be­hind Michael Hipps – tall, thin se­nior with a strong arm and even stronger heart who wears No. 7.

Michael took the mound dur­ing Eastside’s Wed­nes­day night game against Henry County, but not be­fore the en­tire team stood out in the play­ing field, hold­ing black and green bal­loons and re­leas­ing them to the sky in a show of love to Mike Hipps.

Spurring the team’s sup­port on was as large a crowd as I’ve ever seen for high school base­ball on a Wed­nes­day night. More than 90 per­cent of them wear­ing green shirts with #One4Seven writ­ten across the front in yel­low.

Eastside booster club pres­i­dent Ryan Ralston said he or­dered 193 shirts. All of them were sold out, and more peo­ple could be heard through the night ask­ing for more. It was ab­so­lutely one of the most touch­ing things I’d ever seen.

I watched as peo­ple took turns hug­ging Diane Hipps, Mike’s wife and Michael’s mother. Af­ter the game, Michael re­ceived em­braces from team­mates and his coach, Bruce Evans who shared with me ex­actly why he felt ex­tremely equipped to pro­vide con­so­la­tion to his se­nior pitcher dur­ing the most dif­fi­cult mo­ment in his life.

“I have ex­pe­ri­enced loss like that too, so I know what real grief feels like,” Evans said. He opened up about how he mourned and pushed through the sad­ness of los­ing his 15 year old son to a dirt bike ac­ci­dent sev­eral years ago.

“It’s re­ally tough when you have to go through things like that,” Evans said.

“But that’s why we try to be a fam­ily to him. I know what he needs right now from us.”

You could tell that the sup­port seemed to strength young Michael. Not only did he play a whale of a game from the mound in a 17-1 run-rule win over Henry County, when he spoke about his dad af­ter­ward, he did so with a smile. He ac­knowl­edged that play­ing the game they both loved and doing it in front of such a huge show­ing of sup­port would be ex­actly how Mike Hipps would’ve wanted it.

He said it was good for him to be out on the mound, just days af­ter see­ing his dad fall ill.

“It’s bet­ter than just hang­ing around the house all the time right now,” Michael Hipps said. “Out here, I’m with my brothers. This team is my fam­ily too.”

And ap­par­ently so is the en­tire New­ton County base­ball com­mu­nity.

You can’t tell me sports is just a game when you keep al­low­ing me to see how it pulls peo­ple to­gether in the dark­est mo­ments, giv­ing light so nec­es­sary for those af­fected by tragedy to see their way through.

And even though this hap­pened to some­one other than me and my own fam­ily, I can’t help but to feel blessed to see what kind of stock New­ton County’s sports com­mu­nity is made of.

Good stock. Strong, solid, un­flap­pably kind and gen­uine-hearted stock. I can def­i­nitely say I’ve never seen any­thing like the kind of close-knit fam­ily New­ton County sports com­mu­nity is.

Keep it up, folks. You’re help­ing more peo­ple than you know. And my prayers will con­tinue to go out to you, Hipps fam­ily. May God be your strength, along with your lov­ing sports com­mu­nity.

GABRIEL STOVALL SPORTS EDI­TOR

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