FULDA – You know it’s a fun night when this happens …
The Fulda girls basketball team holds an eight-point lead over Luverne as the home team calls a timeout with 62 seconds to play. Before talking to his team, Fulda coach Gregg Slaathaug needs to know the spot where the ball will be inbounded. He looks to one of the officials, who is standing on the opposite side of the court, holding the ball.
Slaathaug asks the official, “Is that the spot? Right there, by the bald guy?”
Indeed, a member of the local citizenry is sitting in the first row, the gymnasium lights reflecting off the top of his head. He smiles and raises his arms in a gesture that says, “Who? Me?” Yes. You.
And so it went on Saturday night in a little gym in Murray County, 18 miles north of Worthington. Six rows of bleachers on either side of the court, more fans sitting on the stage behind one basket. It was a girls-boys basketball doubleheader between Luverne and Fulda, but the meaning of the evening went much deeper; into the hearts and souls of folks from Fulda and the surrounding area who know and love a man named Harvey Carroll.
Harvey’s status as a fixture in this town of 1,300 people began to take root when he arrived as a teacher and coach in 1980. For the next 27 years, every youngster in Fulda knew Harvey. He taught sixth grade and was head or assistant coach of basketball, football and track teams. He helped run the elementary basketball program, had a hand in the Fulda summer recreation program and worked as a volleyball official for 10 years.
Somehow, Harvey also found time to work on a painting crew in the summers, battle weeds on the local golf course, make unannounced deliveries of sweet corn and squash to neighbors and do a thousand other things for the kids and adults in Fulda.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2005 and taught and coached for two more years. Parkinson’s is a brain condition that is characterized by slowness of movement, stiffness, rigidity, loss of balance and coordination and difficulties with speech. Nowadays Harvey gets around with the aid of a walker.
As the girls game ended Saturday night, longtime football coach and current track coach Brad Holinka took the microphone and said, “Don’t run away right now, we’re going to do some things for Harvey.”
Hearing those words, the crowd stood as one and began applauding. Harvey, his wife Sharon and other family members and friends were in one corner of the gym, where a chair is placed for Harvey at every game. Written on a piece of paper taped to the chair was: “Reserved for Harvey Carroll.”
The people had no reservations in showing their love for Carroll. The applause went on and on and everyone remained standing as Holinka talked about what Harvey means to Fulda.
“Harvey Carroll has left a lasting impression,” he said. “Our community, all the coaches around the area, everybody knows Harvey.
“Harvey always started with the kids. And the kids started in elementary school, went from football to basketball to track, and then the little kids went to summer rec, and Harvey was there, too. This started in 1980 and went until 2007. That’s a lasting impression. Let’s give a big round of applause for Harvey Carroll.”
After the serenade died down, Holinka wrapped up the formal presentation with these words: “We are all very, very proud, Harvey, to have you as a friend and call you a friend. Everyone in here can attest to that. You truly are an inspiration to anyone you’ve ever been associated with. One more time, ladies and gentlemen.”
And the thunder of applause swept through the little gym once again. Many of the people wore T-shirts that carried the words “Support Cure Advocate; Parkinson’s Disease Awareness.”
The shirts were being sold in the school lobby, which was filled with items for a silent auction. The items included some real gems; footballs, jerseys, photos and other memorabilia autographed by the likes of Adrian Peterson, Joe Mauer, Mike Krzyzewski, Derek Jeter, Johnny Unitas, Kent Hrbek, Fred Hoiberg, George Brett, John Wooden, Rod Carew and on and on.
A raffle and meal was also held to raise funds, with all the money going to National Parkinsons Foundation Minnesota. Fulda boys basketball coach Colby Pack directed the efforts as a way to pay tribute to Harvey and fight the disease. Pack, Slaathaug and assistant boys basketball coach Steve Kellen sparked the idea while watching a volleyball match in early October, and everything came together quickly.
Pack said, “A lot of schools do Coaches vs. Cancer and we said, ‘Why not honor one of our former coaches who has Parkinson’s Disease?’ I’ve done these raffles before; I have a nephew with Down Syndrome and we’ve had auctions so I had a few connections. It’s one of those things where we probably sent 300 letters and 400 emails. It was time-consuming but well worth it.”
The meal was terrific: pulled pork sandwiches, chips and a delightful array of homemade desserts. Free-will donations were made by the hungry diners, and the total amount raised at the event will come to around $12,000.
Fans came to the gym on a wet, snowy night, hung their outerwear on coat racks and packed the place. They bought T-shirts, perused the auction items and wrote down their bids. A steady line moved through the cafeteria. After a moment of silence was observed for the victims of the previous day’s Connecticut school shooting, Fulda senior Mallory Pagel sang a wonderful national anthem.
As the boys teams warmed up, I sat in the bleachers and closed my eyes for a few seconds. The song “Some Nights” by the band Fun was playing on the sound system, accompanied by the squeaks of sneakers and the bouncing of a couple dozen basketballs.
Saturday night, a small-town gym, friends gathering to honor someone who has touched so many lives, teams competing. That’s a perfect combination.
--To see a photo gallery from the evening in Fulda, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 381
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,349
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn