Normally it’s good for a sports journalist to have some “behind the scenes” information on a prominent athlete or team.
But in this case, I truly wish I did not.
Ten days ago, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz made a trip to Sioux City and offered Sioux City East quarterback Alex Imming “preferred” walk-on status at Iowa next season.
Imming, a great athlete who also plays a primary role on the Black Raiders’ state-ranked Class 4A basketball team, had been talking with Iowa coaches in recent weeks, but the offer wasn’t made until Tuesday of last week.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound athlete with good speed passed and rushed for more than 1,000 yards each in his junior and senior season. He also played some defense and returned punts. One of his carries from scrimmage went for a 90-yard touchdown.
Imming was the second-team All-Western Iowa quarterback in Class 4A/3A by the Omaha World-Herald, behind Harlan’s Zach Osborn. But, somewhat like the now-graduated Colin Sandeman — the Bettendorf product with family ties in Creston — an athlete like Imming might get looks at Iowa at other positions such as wide receiver or safety.
It was a happy day in the Imming family, as Alex would become a Hawkeye athlete along with East basketball teammate Adam Woodbury, the 7-footer recruited by Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Tomorrow was going to kick off a fun weekend, with the Immings invited to Iowa City for a campus visit along with many other recruits in advance of Wednesday’s official signing date.
Unfortunately, that’s not happening. Three days after Ferentz’s visit to Sioux City, Alex’s father, 48-year-old Steven Imming, died of a heart attack while working at the local airport as a computer technician for the Federal Aviation Administration.
It happened in the afternoon. About four hours earlier, Steven Imming had called my wife’s sister in Waukee, asking what the local buzz was in the Des Moines Register about Alex’s decision to go to Iowa.
You see, I married into the Imming family. Steven’s father and Deb’s father were brothers. Steven’s dad, Mel Imming, happened to be my family’s milk man in northeast Fort Dodge, back in the day when we had milk delivery services.
Steve played basketball — his nickname was “Swish” — at St. Edmond High School. I was six years ahead of him and attended Fort Dodge Senior High, but I knew of Steve and his older brother, Mike. They became my cousins, through marriage.
The news of Steve’s passing was stunning. I was driving to Harlan Saturday morning to a middle school basketball tournament, about 10 minutes from the edge of town near the Harlan airport, when I got a call from Deb. Her voice was soft and cracking, like something was terribly wrong.
“I just got a call from (her sister) Beck,” she said, pausing. “Steve Imming died.”
Those words hung in the air for a moment. It’s one of those things that you reject at first, like someone made a terrible mistake. Surely not Steve, the fun-loving cousin everyone loved to see arrive at family gatherings. The guy with that constant, wry grin on his face and some quick-witted self-deprecating comment that would crack you up.
I was in a mental fog at the tournament that morning, still trying to process the news. I felt the same way Tuesday night trying to cover Creston’s game against the Harlan girls. It was an exciting game, but I had just spent the day in Sioux City at Steve’s funeral, having talked briefly with Alex, and really was having trouble concentrating on the events unfolding in front of me.
Alex had written a wonderful letter to his father that rested in the casket by those written by two younger brothers. Connor is a freshman as Sergeant Bluff-Luton, and Jacob is only a second-grader.
Alex wrote that his father was his idol, that he was responsible for his past successes, and any success he would have in the future. He wanted to grow up and become a father just like him.
Also in the casket was an AAU basketball trophy they once shared. Steve and I shared our passion for the sport with our sons, and served as coaches for their youth teams. From what I heard, Steve enjoyed it as much as I did. Several of his former players spoke at Monday night’s visitation. They laughed about some things Steve said to them on the bench.
Saturday night, about 24 hours after hearing of his father’s death, Alex was not expected to play in Sioux City East’s basketball game at Lincoln, Neb. He didn’t ride the bus, staying home with family as they prepared for the services.
But suddenly, Alex had an urge to get to Lincoln and play in that game. His father’s voice was in his head.
“You know what dad would say,” he reportedly said, “get your a-- out there and play ball.”
Under circumstances most of us couldn’t even imagine, Alex scored 16 points as the Black Raiders defeated Lincoln, 42-38.
In my brief encounter with Alex Imming earlier this week, I saw a lot of character. And resolve. A determined young man intent on dedicating the rest of his career to his father.
Having laughed over more than a couple beers with Steve Imming at family reunions and weddings, Deb and I are crushed that he won’t have the opportunity to sit in Kinnick Stadium when AC/DC’s “Back in Black” starts blaring from the speakers, as Alex strides down the tunnel in the swarm with the rest of the Hawkeyes. How proud he would be at that moment.
I was corrected Tuesday when I brought that up.
“He’ll have the best seat in the house looking over him,” another relative said.
For the entire family, especially 8-year-old Jacob, who only wants to hug his daddy one more time, I hope thoughts like that bring some comfort.
And, if you see Alex Imming take the field for the Iowa Hawkeyes someday, cheer extra loud. Because, he will have reached that moment in spite of the huge void where his dad used to be.
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