MARIEMONT - Chris Sauter's greatest pep talk may have been delivered without any words this past Saturday.
After bringing his Bishop Watterson boys lacrosse team to Cincinnati for a Friday victory over Summit Country Day, his boys were back on the field at Division II power Mariemont Saturday afternoon. By all accounts, the game was a rough and tumble, wet, physical affair at Kusel Stadium. The boys delivered shots to the body and the goal. Altercations were both physical and verbal.
"It was an absolute brawl," Mariemont supporter Tiger Nelson said. "Players were screaming; coaches were screaming. It was a close game."
After the 8-5 Mariemont Warrior victory, Sauter and Mariemont coach Steve Peterson wished each other well and the Eagles boarded the bus for the 108-mile ride back home from the Cincinnati suburb.
But first, they made time to honor a legend.
Sauter played lacrosse at Ohio State University and was fully aware of North Carolina legend Graham Harden from his 1991 national championship run with the Tar Heels. That year, Harden was the NCAA's Outstanding Defenseman of the Year.
Harden later became head girls coach and assistant boys coach at Mariemont, a position he held for years until Lou Gehrig's disease robbed him of his motor skills. Sauter's also aware of the inspiration Harden has drawn since his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disease he's squared off with since August 2016 with his GForce Game On! organization.
Now with a feeding tube, the force that paced the Warrior sidelines on his own, then with a walking stick, then with a scooter, is now under 24-hour care at his house.
However, Harden is able to text. When Watterson's Sauter texted to say he was sorry he couldn't see him, Harden invited him to his nearby residence.
"I was texting with him all the way down," Sauter said. "He said, 'Just come around the corner and lay on the horn!' I thought I'm going to do something better than that."
So, after a difficult defeat, Bishop Watterson changed into G-Force hats and shirts, dried and cleaned themselves as best as possible, then made the side trip to the guru of G-Force.
A former neighbor of Tiger Nelson's caught the visit on video upon seeing the Bishop Watterson charter bus pull up in the neighborhood. He quickly shared the video and story.
"It was the coolest thing ever," Nelson said. "To me, this was like something you'd see in the last 30 seconds of (ESPN) Sports Center."
Sauter has known Harden as a player and a coach and the two have children of similar ages.
"It's time to honor friendship," Sauter said of the Watterson side trip. "We were honoring one of the biggest ambassadors of the game."
Despite the loss, Sauter said he admires the Mariemont program. Warriors coach Steve Peterson and Harden would have expected nothing less from Watterson than a full-tilt competitive affair with sportsmanship prevailing at the end regardless of the result.
When the bus arrived, Graham's wife came out to greet Sauter. The boys could not physically be close to Harden due to his condition. However, each player walked to the window and paid his respects to Mariemont's highly decorated Warrior.
"Each of the guys walked up and I wanted my son to meet him," Sauter said. "It certainly made us feel special. It's what lacrosse is all about. We just really have a ton of respect for Graham and the entire Mariemont program."
Harden is non-verbal but is still able to effectively communicate with his eyes.
"We were talking to each other without saying words," Sauter said. "I told him I didn't come down here to give Steve (Peterson) a big hug and a kiss."
Harden was able to text a response to Sauter's rainy, chilly Saturday visit.
"Chris is a good dude," Harden wrote. "Cold and wet isn't my cup of tea these days."
The exchange ended with Harden sending the fist-bump emoji.
Current Warrior Seth Greene is still supporting Harden's cause with G-Force Face-Off Against ALS based on his frequent winning of face-offs. Greene and his teammates took on Division I St. Xavier Monday as part of their grueling schedule.
Tuesday, Steve Peterson will bring food to the Harden family and review game tape with Graham, which has become a weekly tradition. With a wink and a nod, Harden will converse in lacrosse just as he did in the weekend visit with the wet men from Watterson.