Rebounding from a personal tragedy

DALE CITY — Evangel boys basketball coach Jim Fisher says he expects a lot from senior Dan Rowenhorst this season: Scoring, running the offense from point guard, tough defense, leadership skills.

Expectations that high, for some, might be considered pressure — pressure to perform, pressure to lead. But for Rowenhorst, the demands of the basketball life, no matter how strenuous, won’t be anything like the strains of real life.

Edward Rowenhorst, Dan’s brother, was one of the 189 people killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Dan remembers the day. He first heard the news on the way to a field trip from school. He said he wasn’t that worried about his brother at first, but as time passed, his concern grew.

“We knew if he was out [of the building], he would have called us,” Rowenhorst explained.

That night, the rest of Dan’s family went to Washington. He stayed home alone, waiting for the good news that never came.

In the two and a half months that have passed since the attacks, basketball has diminished in significance for Rowenhorst. At the same time, sports have become a release.

“It’s just good to get away from everything,” Rowenhorst said.

If anyone is in position to heal with Rowenhorst, it’s his coach. Fisher, before retiring, worked in the Pentagon. His old office was just yards from the impact site, and he knew two of the building’s secretaries that perished in the attack.

“You stop and pause, [and see] how precious life is, how God has watched over us and taken care of us,” Fisher explained. “That’s what we preach to our kids: Your walk with God is more important, your schoolwork is more important than is basketball. So we emphasize that.

“You just thank God for every minute, every day.”

Since the attacks, sports for most of the country have become secondary. Fisher and Rowenhorst are no different.

“It probably helps me to focus that I’m dealing with individual lives here. I’m dealing with young men that, basically, are heading into the prime of their lives,” Fisher said. “It makes me concentrate more on instilling in them the right morals, the right values, the right direction for their lives — not only in basketball, but in life itself. And just live our life to the fullest in what God would have us do, and just do the best we can, every day of our lives.”

Rowenhorst admits basketball was once a primary focus of his life, but things have changed.

“With him dying, it puts everything in perspective,” Rowenhorst explained. “Basketball isn’t the most important thing in life. But I know he wouldn’t want me to stop doing something. He’d want me to keep playing.”

In the end, basketball alone couldn’t provide the comfort that Rowenhorst needed. His faith was the key.

Going to Evangel, a private Christian school, one would expect religion to play an important role in a student’s life. Rowenhorst’s faith, reinforced at Evangel, has helped him move past the pain.

“It’s definitely been a big part,” Rowenhorst said of his faith. “You gotta have faith in God.”

“He accepted the Lord’s will. He’s a good kid of faith,” Fisher said. “He trusts that his brother is in heaven … I think he’s handled it extremely well.”

While the value of hoops has — in some respects — depreciated, there is something else to fill the void for Rowenhorst: In his brother’s absence, he has tried to help raise his brother’s young daughters. That’s a challenging task for any 18-year old, but for Rowenhorst, it’s not a challenge; it’s a responsibility.

Rowenhorst said he doesn’t want them to grow up without a male figure in their lives. And since he visited them frequently, even before Sept. 11, the transition in equating Dan as that figure goes a little more smoothly.

“They look up to me a lot, and I’m really close to them, even before my brother died,” Rowenhorst said. “Now, I see them a lot more — they come over to see me or I go over to see them. I try to be with them, so they have a father figure.”

As the discussion turns toward the upcoming season — the Eagles open their season Friday with a trip to the United Tournament at the United Christian Academy in Stanardsville — Rowenhorst brightens. A smile reappears across his face, his countenance livens.

Basketball, as a release.

“You’ve got to have a goal of winning a championship. Otherwise, why even play?” he said. “Individual stats really aren’t that important, but it’s always nice to have them.”

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