It passes by quickly, and without enough reflection…the times and the lives of a community’s best young people, with the qualities and the daring to succeed at what they love at another, higher level.
They tell me there were better than 400 people from Versailles who made the trip to Columbus Saturday to watch the Ahrens boys – Kyle and Justin – as they suited up for their respective schools as 14th-ranked Ohio State and 8th-ranked Michigan State met to play basketball. I can’t confirm 400, but I did see a few.
They came out of pride – pride in their community, in their schools, and for the fact of Versailles, Ohio having produced not one, but two, NCAA Division I basketball players who would share the unique opportunity of playing before day’s end…on the same court, and at the same time.
And yes, as one gushed before the game, “I’m just so proud of those two boys. I’m so happy for Kevin and Susan (parents). What a wonderful thing to see.”
Personally, I couldn’t agree more, because Kyle and Justin Ahrens are special boys – have been, since the days when I first noticed them playing ‘Tigerball’ against the likes of St. Henry, Marion Local, and Minster. I did stories on each back then, and always appreciated how well-mannered, how respectful, and well-prepared they were around adults. That was then. This is now.
Saturday, Kyle Ahrens was one of the first Spartans to make an appearance on the court at the Schottenstein Center – to shoot, stretch, and just go about his usual pre-game routine. The thought struck me for a moment of his long journey these past three years…through injuries, down time, and the questions from those at home during his sure frustration – would he ever really play at Michigan State?
And then, out of nowhere he found me standing there, watching, and came over to say hello. “How are you?” he said, smiling. “It’s good to see you.” It was no different than his years playing in the ‘MAC’, when he took the time then to just say “hi”.
After being the center of attention for all that time at Versailles, Kyle Ahrens had scored 118 points, total, entering the 2018-19 season as a role player for Michigan State, hardly a reward for the patience to pursue a dream. But healthy now, and solid in his ability to contribute, the now-redshirt junior is averaging 20 minutes and 6.2 points per game. Saturday, he scored 9 points in the Spartans’ 86-77 win, including a game-changing dunk midway through the second half that gave the Spartans the lead, and momentum to eventually secure the win.
“I was happy to just give it my all,” he said afterwards to a Spartan reporter. “It was winning time. It was at the end of the game.”
At a point with two minutes remaining, and after Buckeye starters Kaleb Wesson and Luther Muhammad had fouled out, his brother Justin made an appearance to join his older brother on the court. It was a seminal moment for the good folks of Versailles, Ohio – an unspeakable moment for Kevin and Susan.
“It was tough for his folks,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo to the post-game press. “They were wearing Ohio State sweaters and Spartan underwear. But I know it meant a lot to him (Kyle).”
Flashback: When I showed up to watch Ohio State play Purdue-Fort Wayne earlier this year I was standing in nearly the same spot on the court, pre-game, as Justin Ahrens, Ohio State freshman, picked me out of the other faces. “How are you?” he said, extending his hand. “It’s good to see you.” There is a consistency with the Ahrenses, apparently. Later that week I ran into Kevin and Susan at a Versailles girls game.
“How are you?” dad Kevin said, sticking out his hand. “Good to see you.”
But that paled to the irony, the joy, and the pride that all those people from Versailles felt in their own flashback moment Saturday – memories of Kyle and Justin Ahrens on Main Street, at St Denis church, and in their living rooms. Justin didn’t happen to score Saturday – it wasn’t his role. But that day will come, too, as has Kyle’s.
I didn’t interview anyone, though the Ahrenses would have been fine with it. There’s always been a relationship. I even bought cars for years from Uncle Mose (Wampler).
Rather, it was a day to just watch, reflect, and think about the uniqueness of less being more, like Versailles, Ohio (45380), producing something that special. A pair of brothers had emerged to play at college sports’ highest level – with no tats, no piercings, no presumptions. Kyle’s only personal statement is the full beard he now wears. As it was back then, his play, and his personality is what you remember.
It’s easy to appreciate that. ‘Good’ people first, who just happen to be Spartans and the Buckeyes – who wear conflicting sweaters and underwear.
Then, now, and I’m sure, forever!