NAPPANEE — When an unopened case of water bottles is sitting in the NorthWood locker room, the team knows they’re not for drinking.
The water bottles have become a symbol of excellence for the Panthers girls basketball players this season. They know that if they win their game that night, they get to douse their head coach, Adam Yoder, with the water. So far, the water has been placed in the locker room ahead of the Northern Lakes Conference clinching game, the sectional final, the regional final and the semistate game.
So far, all four packages of water have been used.
“It’s so much fun,” senior guard Reagan Hartman said. “We just know that when we see the package of water bottles waiting in the locker room for us, we have to win that game in order for it to happen. It’s such a great feeling knowing we accomplished what we wanted.”
The idea for the water bottle celebration came from NorthWood Athletic Director Norm Sellers. Before each conference game, the team would have a guest speaker come in and give the players a motivational talk. Ahead of the Goshen game Jan. 19, Sellers was asked by Yoder to give a speech to the team.
“I think one of the greatest parts about being an athlete in high school is the privilege of being on a team,” Sellers said. “I kind of spoke to that effect and how being a part of a team, whether you win or you lose, is something that you’ll remember forever. When you have the opportunity to do that, you don’t want to pass up that opportunity.”
Whatever Sellers said, worked. The Panthers beat the RedHawks, 36-19, to finish NLC play undefeated. Sellers’ speech was so powerful that junior Alea Minnich labeled it her favorite moment of the season so far.
“(Sellers) spoke from the heart, and that’s what this team’s about: a love for each other and playing for each other,” Yoder said. “It was a fun night.”
What happened after the game caught Yoder by surprise, though. He had no idea Sellers had placed the water bottles in the locker room during the game. Yoder became suspicious when the players weren’t letting him in the locker room right after the game.
“They wouldn’t let me go into the locker room after the game — I usually go in, get out, talk to (the media) and go home,” Yoder said.
When Yoder walked in, he was immediately met with a shower of water from the players. The unexpectedness of the event let to some collateral damage.
“The first one, I ruined my shoes, so I got a new pair of shoes out of it, which that’s a good thing,” Yoder said. “I don’t know if my wife would’ve gone for that more than once. And then I got my wallet all wet the first time.”
The first water dousing was unexpected. The next three, though, were set up in advance. Sellers has started leaving the package of water bottles in the locker room before the game to serve as motivation for the team.
“Maddy (Payne) looked at me after the sectional semifinal and she goes, ‘Mr. Sellers, you’ve got the water, right?’ And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I do,’” Sellers said.
Yoder has also been able to make adjustments so that way the majority of his wardrobe doesn’t get ruined.
“I realized if I just go in with my pants and my shirt, I’ll be just fine,” Yoder said. “I started bringing a backpack to every game that possibly could’ve had some water being dumped. I’ve learned my lesson, that’s for sure.”
After the semistate win this past Saturday against Benton Central, Yoder knew the water was coming. He even game-planned for it as well, coming armed with two water bottles of his own.
What he didn’t except, however, was Payne to dump an entire cooler of water on him.
“I’m not sure who that was; it wasn’t me,” Sellers said.
“That was a whole lot of fun,” Yoder added. “That was cold.”
If the Panthers win the Class 3A state championship game against Salem on Saturday, Payne isn’t sure what they’ll do to celebrate the win.
“Hopefully we get two coolers or something,” the senior said.
Assistant coach Corey Duncan has taken videos of all the postseason water celebrations. Thousands of people have watched the videos.
“The whole water thing was just a thing for those kids to have fun,” Sellers said. “There’s a lot of pressure with high school athletics, and that pressure can kind of get to people. And so, when you can have some fun and cause some relaxation for the kids just to let out and enjoy themselves, I want to take every chance I can to do that.”
There’s still one case of unopened water bottles for NorthWood this season. Sellers is prepared for them to be opened on Saturday.
“I can promise you I’ll have a case of water when we go to the state final,” Sellers said.