2016 provided many thrilling moments that I was able to be apart of, and why we may never see a year like it again.
By Brendan DeVenney
Leading up to 2016, living in Cleveland had become a bore. Nothing real exciting was happening, and there was all talk about what could be. Generally no winning teams. The city becoming the butt of many jokes. And people moving out as soon as they got the chance.
And for myself personally, I was still waiting to see exciting athletics at Saint Ignatius as a broadcaster on the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network. Yes, it’s prominently been known as a sports school. We hold over 30 state championships, and even a number of national championships. But in my time as a student, I had seen weak football my first three years. The basketball program was playing under par. And baseball was on the rise.
However, all things would change in one year. Enter 2016. No one could predict what a monstrous year it was for everyone living in The Land. And, especially for me, it was time where I had to cherish everyone moment I got to live.
Basketball ‘Cats make a return to possible glory
We start off in January, where the Saint Ignatius Basketball team was starting to make some noise and grab the state’s attention. You see, the Saint Ignatius Basketball program had struggled for years, failing to get out of the District Tournament. However, the tone of the program would change when Head Coach Brian Becker returned to the helm of the team.
Through January, the team was showing so much promise with their high powered offense, led by Deven Stover, Jimmy Berger, and Matt Davet. There was a point where they played three overtime games in five days, winning two of them. And when they went deep into February, the schedule got tougher, playing Ohio powerhouses in St. Edward, Massillon Jackson, and Garfield Heights. Despite their only win in that tough three game stretch coming against St. Edward, this team still showed that they were playoff ready.
The came the tournament. Around this time, the school year was in a frenzy in the month of March. This is the time where winter playoffs are in full swing, St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness fevers are in the air, and spring sports is starting up. So fast forward to Saturday, March 5. One of the biggest days in Saint Ignatius Athletics history. Why is that? Well the basketball team and hockey team were both playing rival St. Edward in their respective District Championship games! To add even more excitement, the basketball game was moved to the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center in Downtown Cleveland to accommodate for a massive crowd.
The hockey game was scheduled for 1:00 with tipoff for basketball scheduled for 7:00. So, this was a day where you just weren’t doing homework. After I live tweeted the hockey game, where the Wildcats beat St. Edward 3-1, it was time to head downtown for the biggest game of the season. Picture the Cleveland State Wolstein Center, with two gigantic student sections that you don’t see at Vikings games and all sides filled to the rafters with cheering, adoring high school basketball fans for a rivalry game with both team’s seasons on the line.
Well those fans got a thriller of a game as it went down to the wire, with Saint Ignatius coming out on top, 58-51, winning the District Championship. The ride would continue for the Wildcats, who had caught the eyes of a lot of the media around the state. No one had seen a Saint Ignatius basketball team this talented in a long time, and they were starting something pretty special where the school, students and faculty combined, and the outside community were getting behind this basketball team. It was something beautiful in the making. You really started to question how far they could go.
Well after beating Solon in the Regional Semifinal at the Wolstein Center, it set up a rematch with Garfield Heights, a team with a lot of swagger and attitude. They loved playing like an NBA team, something the Wildcats didn’t do. Both teams showed up and took each other into double overtime. Five buzzer beaters occurred during the game, and it felt like neither team deserved to lose the game. It was a thriller, with fans holding their breath during the whole game. Sadly, Saint Ignatius came out on the losing end in one of the best Ohio high school basketball playoff games ever to be played.
Being apart of this one week of high-level, agonizing, riveting basketball was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had never seen high school basketball this exciting, and to be able to cover these games that everyone around the state was paying attention to was truly something beautiful. I’ll always remember that one week.
Wildcat Baseball makes another memorable run
Fast forward to the spring, where I had the opportunity to call a Saint Ignatius baseball team that proved all doubters wrong. The Wildcats started the season a little slow, starting off 2-6. But slowly, led by the leadership of Dennis Grosel, Kevin Mingus, and Michael Rogers, and the star pitching of Murphy O’Brien and Connor Adams, the Wildcats made it all the way to State Tournament.
Their playoff run was spectacular, and always with the high school baseball tournament, the end of the school year makes it even more enjoyable! They dominated St. Edward with a District Championship win, highlighted by a Grosel solo shot. The following week they rolled through their Regional Tournament, winning their second consecutive Regional Title. Being along side the players, they all felt that this was their year and that they were finally going to get it.
Early June, I would broadcast for the second time from Huntington Park. It was the State Semifinal between the Wildcats and Pickerington North. It was a classic of a game, a game where I got to bring out my inner Tom Hamilton (if I have one). The game went into extra innings, but Saint Ignatius couldn’t pull it out. What a beginning to the summer it was, though, with major high school playoff baseball.
Cleveland’s title run begins
While all of this was occurring, something special was going on in professional sports in Cleveland. The city of Cleveland was on edge of actually winning a pro sports title for the first time since 1964. But first, Clevelanders were treated to some other titles to get themselves hyped up for the big one.
First, it was Euclid native and UFC fighter Stipe Miocic. On May 14, 2016, Miocic battled Fabricio Werdum in UFC 198 for the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt. He would win in Round 1 in less than a minute to win his first ever World Championship and bring a UFC title to Northeast Ohio.
Then, only a few weeks later in early June, the Lake Erie Monsters (now named the Cleveland Monsters) of the American Hockey League brought the Calder Cup back to Cleveland for the first time since 1964. Led by the goal tending of Anton Forsberg and the hot stick of Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Monsters would sweep the Hershey Bears and win the Calder Cup with a 1-0, overtime Game 4 win at Quicken Loans Arena in front of 19,665 Clevelanders.
All of this winning became contagious and as a Cleveland fan, you felt alive and a little entitled to winning everything. Well, in Cleveland, you don’t get a whole lot. So this was an exception to people being entitled to only the best. Sure enough, five days after the Monsters won the Calder Cup, Clevelanders would get what they have been hoping for for 52 years.
For the first time in 52 years…
Everyone knows the story of the Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit by winning Games 5 and 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but instead I’ll focus on the actual day that took place on Father’s Day 2016.
The Sunday started off like any other Sunday with mass at Saint Ignatius High School. Following that, it was time to head downtown to watch the red hot Indians look to sweep the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. We’ll talk about the Tribe later, but Cleveland’s boys of summer started the party that day with a walk-off RBI single by Jose Ramirez in the 10th inning, defeating the White Sox 3-2.
After celebrating a Tribe win, everyone in Cleveland started to get a weird feeling in their stomach. No team had been this close to a title since the 1997 Cleveland Indians when they took the Florida Marlins to seven games, only to fall 3-2 in 11 innings. But this feeling was different with the Cavaliers. The dream just had to come true.
That night, however, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time: work. I punched in at 6:00 with tipoff of Game 7 of the NBA Finals at 8:00. Around that time, no one was in the restaurant I was working at, mainly because there was more important things to worry about then getting ice cream. Around 8:00, I pull out WatchESPN on my phone and start watching the game in the back room with my fellow employees, while at the same time trying to get some work done.
Well, God must had been on my side because around 9:00, our manager let’s some of us leave to watch the game. So I punch out and race home (luckily 2 minutes down the street), getting in front of the TV just in time for most of the oh-so important second half.
For all father’s and sons in Cleveland, there could not had been a better Father’s Day gift than watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals with LeBron James leading the Cavaliers. Well, with my hands clenched tightly, holding my breath, the final three minutes begin with the score knotted at 89-89. Then, this happens.
After one of the greatest blocks in NBA history, the Cavaliers knew they had to start something offensively. Still I was on the edge of my seat, literally, and couldn’t believe it when one of the most clutch players in the league hit the biggest shot of his life.
Before the game, I felt like it was either going to go one of two ways. The first being the Cleveland curse story. We come so close yet fail to come out on top. Or, the second being LeBron James plays the game of his life to lift Cleveland to their first title since 1964. Luckily, it was the latter. The Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Champions.
Three days later, 1.3 million of our closest friends threw a huge block party. It was the first championship parade ever in the City of Cleveland. People flew in from all over the world to be a part of history. And after that, you felt like Cleveland is no longer the “Mistake on the Lake.” No. We’re the “City You Want to Be.” The “City of Champions!”
Cleveland is on top of the world
Cleveland would then start to get a little attitude, in a good way. We loved positively being in the spotlight for once. And that would be taken to new heights when the city hosted the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The summer of 2016 showed the entire nation, and even the world, what Cleveland is truly made of. It showed that we can play with the big dogs like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. It was a precedent for what is hopefully to come in the future for the city. Even Saint Ignatius High School got in the action by hosting Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” at The Breen Center for the Performing Arts.
Wildcat Football is back to a powerhouse
But once the big party was over, fall rolled around, and again I could not have had a more fun fall. No, the Browns didn’t add any excitement, but there was still a ton to cheer about.
Let’s start with the Saint Ignatius Varsity football team. This was a team that you just didn’t want to mess around with. Game after game, their defense shut opponents down, and for myself and my broadcast partner, calling their games got even more fun as the weeks went by. For instance, after winning on the road in Cincinnati versus St. Xavier, a trip they historically don’t do well on, they would then defeat St. Edward at FirstEnergy Stadium convincingly, 34-7. Those two games saw the program get so hyped up and we made sure our broadcasts were way more exciting and even more professional.
Fast forward to the Regional Final when Saint Ignatius faced off with St. Edward again. This time the Eagles wouldn’t go down without a fight, taking the Wildcats into overtime. At a packed Bedford Bearcat Stadium, the Wildcats would stand strong and come out with a victory, headlined by running back Mark Bobinski and the stifling Wildcat defense.
But then two weeks later, the Wildcats played in the game that they dreamt of playing in their entire lives: the State Championship game. On a Friday night in early December, fans from Cleveland and Cincinnati met halfway at “The Horseshoe,” Ohio Stadium at The Ohio State University. Two Jesuit rivals, Saint Ignatius and St. Xavier, would clash for a State Title.
My day started early, arriving at school around 7:15 just like any other day. Periods went by with me gearing up, when time allowed, for the biggest broadcast of my life that night.
After Economics 7th period, it was time for the SIBN crew to load up and head down to Columbus for the most important broadcast of our lives. I remember arriving on The Ohio State University’s campus, which feels like a city in itself, and seeing the stadium in distance and my jaw dropping. “I’m broadcasting from there?” Just a week ago Ohio State won in overtime versus Michigan at this same stadium. Now it was Saint Ignatius’ turn to get a win.
So the SIBN crew got perched high above everyone else in one of the largest press boxes I’ve even been in. After taking a trip onto the field for our pregame promo, a walk inside the tunnel, and after meeting the Voice of the Buckeyes, Paul Keels, it was showtime.
The game and broadcast started out perfectly, with the Wildcats winning 10-0 at halftime. But then in the second half, the wheels started to come off. The Wildcats fumbled at their own 2-yard line to allow St. Xavier to take the lead, and then a stumble at the 5-yard with no one insight in overtime came back to haunt the Wildcats and open up chances for St. Xavier.
In double overtime, the Wildcats were unable to pull out the win, but from a broadcasters perspective, between the nerves, adrenaline, and discipline to stay professional, it was a roller coaster ride sitting in the same spot for hours. In the end, there was a lot of agony. Yet, in the moment, I realized that what we all saw was art on a football field.
I obviously wasn’t happy that we lost the State Championship because for years, through grade school, I had dreamt of calling a State Football Championship with Saint Ignatius winning. Sadly, that didn’t happen. But what I had to realize on the positive side was I called history. No State Championship had gone into double overtime until that night. Plus, I did fulfill my dream of broadcasting a State Championship. Only one other broadcast team of the SIBN has gotten to do that and that was back in 2011. So it was pretty exciting to be apart of history. It’s something I still play back in my head, still hoping the game would’ve gone a different way. But that means it’s a memory I’ll never forget.
An October (and November) to Remember
And finally, one of the many best times Cleveland has ever experienced. The 2016 World Series. All season long, the Cleveland Indians were underestimated by everyone. Until one night in early October, where the Tribe got their postseason started like no other team in baseball has ever done. Hammy?
At that point, you knew something real special was happening. You could feel it in the regular season, when Tyler Naquin hit the walk-off inside-the-park home run and when the Indians won 14 games in a row. But when you hit three home runs in one inning in Game 1 of the ALDS, you’re showing that you’re for real. And oh were they for real.
The Indians would sweep the Red Sox to advance to the American League Championship Series against Toronto. They then made it look easy again, winning their first three games before losing Game 4. But then newly engaged Ryan Merritt took the mound in Game 5, a rookie making just his second major league start. Blue Jays veteran Jose Bautista said that he would probably be “shaking in his boots.” Well he was far from shaking. He was dealing. Merritt threw 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just 2 hits as the Indians clinched the American League pennant to advance to the Fall Classic.
So, now it’s time for the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs. Cubs? World Series? That’s the perfect national story for everyone in the country to talk about. They haven’t won since 1908. 108 years without a World Series. Everyone’s obviously going to be rooting for them to break the curse. Well, everyone except Clevelanders.
Thus, the series proved to be a thrilling World Series. And it did not disappoint with both Cleveland and Chicago taking each other into a Game 7 at Progressive Field. Yes, another Game 7 for the city of Cleveland to overcome.
My experience of Game 7 was a little different from Game 7 of the NBA Finals. On the night of November 2, I wasn’t in the comfort of my living room, nor was I downtown to hopefully celebrate. I was at the perfect place. The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio, leading Kairos 192 for Saint Ignatius.
The retreat leaders and retreatants weren’t blind. We all realized that history could happen that night and we didn’t want to miss it. So we hold a watch party after our final prayer of the night.
The game isn’t going the way we’re all hoping it would. The Indians find themselves down 6-3 after 6 innings. It’s not looking good, and we’re starting to feel real doubtful since the past two games didn’t end so well. Until this happens….
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than a moment like this. A game-tying home run in front of the home town crowd in Game 7 of the World Series. Cleveland players themselves said it felt like they were back in little league, storming out of the dugout to pounce on Rajai Davis. This was a moment so beautiful that you appreciate life even more and you count your blessings to be alive. You also feel closer to those around you cheering for the same purpose, no matter if they’re black or white, Muslim or atheist, gay or straight. I myself knew in the Jesuit Retreat House that all around me didn’t care about division. It was truly a joyful moment. Especially being on a Kairos retreat. This was supposed to be a time to get away from everyday life, yet here we were watching the World Series. I had to give a Kairos talk the next morning, and it so was important to reel everyone back into the retreat and to put their focus back on finding God. So this was this a real unique experience to be apart of, an experience no one will likely ever feel again.
Sadly, Mother Nature hit, the game went into extra innings, and Chicago prevailed over the Indians, 8-7, to win the World Series. But besides the fact that they lost, what a time it was to be a native of Cleveland.
Cleveland: The City of Champions
Why did I write this? Mainly because moments like these need to be remembered. Plus, looking ahead to the future, we may never experience a year like 2016 again that saw so much success. Yes, Cleveland is still on the rise with its sports teams, infrastructure building, and national appearance improving immensely. Cleveland is now starting to become a tourist attraction and a city to hold major events. We’re even in the running to host a future NFL Draft and a FIFA World Cup. Yes, a World Cup. So, with that being said, remember 2016. Because that was the year that started the rebirthing of the City of Cleveland.