116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There were hugs. So many hugs.
There were tears. So many tears.
And in the end, after Iowa Valley’s boys’ basketball team had produced an amazing fourth-quarter comeback Tuesday night to beat Sigourney, there was one prevailing feeling.
Dylan would have been proud.
“I know he was jumping up and down up there,” Iowa Valley senior guard Evan Kearney said. “I know he was just as excited as everyone else. He would get really pumped when we were playing sports, no matter what sport it was.”
Dylan Penning died Jan. 9 at his parents’ home in Marengo. He was a 16-year-old sophomore.
A multi-sport athlete who was popular with his classmates, his death has devastated an entire community. Penning’s funeral was held at the high school last Saturday.
“Just a good kid. A good family,” said Iowa Valley Coach Randy Carney. “Very positive, a ton of friends, a good athlete ... He was good to be around, attentive, listened to what we had to say.
“He was just a normal kid and well liked by everybody. I don’t think I ever heard anyone ever say anything bad about Dylan.”
Penning was a starting guard for the Tigers.
“Always the kid that would make everyone laugh,” Kearney said. “He always worked extremely hard, you would never not see him hustling. He always made sure everyone else was OK, that everyone else was laughing.”
As difficult as it is, Iowa Valley has decided to continue its season while it grieves. Dylan would have wanted that, they all agreed.
The court has become a sanctuary for these kids and their coaches. A place to be together and comfort each other.
A place to remember their friend.
“There’s no manual for dealing with this type of thing, so we were going by feel,” said Carney, who has been head coach for seven years. “We went in (last) Wednesday, and I was going to just have them shoot around. But they wanted to scrimmage, said ‘Let’s just pick teams and go up and down the floor.’ They had so much fun doing it. They were smiling, they were laughing, they were joking, they were themselves. It was the best thing we could have done.”
“At first, I honestly did not think we were going to play again,” said Kearney, a co-captain with fellow senior Beau Long. “As a leader, that’s not how you’re supposed to think, but right away, I was just like there is no way I will ever go back without Dylan.
“But I think he would have liked us to keep playing, and I think it means a lot to his family that we’re still playing.”
As mentioned, Iowa Valley played its first game since the tragedy Tuesday night at home. Both teams wore special “DJP 25” T-shirts during warmups, Carney saying the outpouring of love and support from Sigourney and other schools has been overwhelming.
His team did not play well most of the game, falling behind by as many as 16 points in the second half. Then the fourth quarter began, and so did the comeback.
Iowa Valley outscored Sigourney by a 30-12 margin to win 62-56, with Kearney pouring in 22 of his game-high 28 points. All of his points in the game came in the second half.
“The first half, nothing was falling,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, it seemed like I couldn’t miss, even if I was trying to. It was just that I wanted to take over, and I knew we had to win that game.”
“He was like ‘We are not going to lose,’” Carney said.
Penning’s grandparents attended the game, and the team posed for a photo with them at its conclusion.
“Very emotional afterward. Very,” Carney said. “I think everybody just kind of exhaled. They just felt better, felt like they did something for Dylan.”
The rest of the season also is for him, they said. They know he’ll be watching.
Just like he did Tuesday night.
“It’s always going to be tough not having Dylan there,” Kearney said. “It was really weird being back in the gym in a game setting without him. Warming up without him was weird, and there was a whole mix of emotions. When we did a moment of silence before the game, it all kind of hit me that I’d never take the court with him again.
“At halftime, I just felt like we were letting him down because we weren’t playing together like we should have been. When we came back and won, I was just so really proud of everybody. I got emotional again because I know Dylan would have been proud of our effort, too. And with the outcome of the game.”