Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pair honor deceased mothers by playing on

Kovanda and Arp to use 2009 to honor mothers.

Ohio State second baseman Cory Kovanda never had to search the grandstands to see if his mother was at a game.

Linda Kovanda was not shrill, but she had a distinctive voice. Every one of the Buckeyes knew when she wanted them to score some runs.

"I could pick out her voice in the crowd," Cory said. "There would be times she would get pretty loud. She could get excited. She didn't just cheer for me. She got behind all the players."

When Ohio State opens the season against Notre Dame in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge on Friday in Dunedin, Fla., the players will be missing one of their biggest backers.

Linda, who was a special education coordinator for Dublin Public Schools, died of pancreatic cancer on Feb. 9 after a 20-month fight. She was 53.

How can her son take the field? His answer is, how could he not?

"For 17 months you would never had known my mom had cancer because she fought every step and she made almost every game," said Kovanda, a junior from Worthington Kilbourne. "I've always played for her, for my family and for God. I have to play. I know she'll be watching."

Outfielder Michael Arp will try to be there for his teammate. His mother, Jill, passed away unexpectedly in October.

"I've told Cory that it's a bumpy road and it's going to take both of us time," said Arp, a senior from Reynoldsburg. "We'll definitely help one another. There are days when you are completely fine. Then there are days when you don't want to get out of bed."

Coach Bob Todd has had to keep an eye on the mental state of such players many times in four-plus decades as a college coach.

What will help Arp and Kovanda, Todd said, is that both have good foundations because they come from strong families.

Kovanda has had to learn how to play with Type 1 diabetes. Arp had to make the transition from middle infielder to corner outfielder and part-time player to full-time player.

"I'm definitely watching both of them more closely," Todd said. "This is such a difficult time for them. What is going to help them pull through this is that their mothers followed their careers and were behind them. They know their mothers would want them to continue with baseball and school."

Arp said there would be reminders throughout the season of what he and Kovanda have lost.

"Our moms won't be there for the meet the team luncheon and they won't be there for Senior Day," he said. "What we've got to do is dig deep and get through it. You've got to get your mind right. This is going to take time. This is hard. In the end, we're honoring our mothers."

Kovanda did just that as a speaker during a memorial service for his mother last Wednesday at Worthington Christian Church.

"I told some humorous stories because my mom wanted the service to be upbeat," he said. "You never think about having to do something like that. It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do."

The next day, Kovanda was at practice.

"The good thing is that you always have the guys," he said. "I came back to practice knowing they would be behind me. I can always talk to them about anything."

Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch

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