Play of the game: The importance of being Clev at Lafayette Jeff
When an assistant coach collapsed before Friday’s varsity football game in Michigan City, Lafayette Jeff’s longtime athletic trainer was on the scene
Ed Tilly still isn’t sure exactly what happened on a football sideline last Friday night, beyond what he could make out in game film that made it look like he’s on the turf doing snow angels, just as Lafayette Jeff coaches and players were huddling up for the last seconds before kickoff against Michigan City.
“I was there, but I wasn’t there,” Tilley, a defensive line coach with the Bronchos football team, said Wednesday. “If that makes any sense. All I know is Clev was right there.”
Standing on the narrow sidelines at Ames Field Friday night, Lafayette Jeff quarterbacks coach Clayton Richard was putting on his headset, taking in the typical chaos that comes with the minutes before a high school football game, when he saw in the corner of his eye someone go down to the ground.
Richard said that at first he thought, with the visiting stands right behind the players and coaches at Michigan City High School’s field, that maybe one of the kids who made the two-hour trips from Lafayette Jeff was messing around.
“I looked down, and it was Coach Tilley,” Richard said. “And it didn’t look good, like the life had gone right out of him. … Right away, I’m whistling for Clev.”
Tilley, in his first year as an assistant football coach at Lafayette Jeff, was on the ground and wasn’t breathing. Jeff Clevenger, the athletic trainer at Jeff since 1987, by all accounts was there in a matter of seconds, starting chest compressions.
“The kids were all yelling, ‘Coach is down,’” Clevenger said. “His lips were already blue, and that wasn’t good. There wasn’t much time to do anything but get to work.”
As coaches corralled shaken players to a far corner of the field, Clevenger worked on Tilley’s chest until he was breathing again and color returned to his face.
Angelis Moss, a 260-pound offensive lineman who holds the school weight room record with a squat of 560 pounds, sprinted past his coaches, 50 yards to the home team sideline to get emergency medical personnel assigned to the game. Lafayette Jeff Coach Pat Shanley said Moss later told him that he was doing what he’d learned in Clevenger’s athletic training elective course from the year before.
“Things were pure chaos – chaos because that’s just what’s happening right before a game and even more chaos because what happened on the sideline,” Shanley said. “But here comes Clev, calm and cool as a cucumber. He took charge.”
Tilley was sitting up by the time he left with medical personnel before the teams came back together for the kickoff. A teacher at McCutcheon High School, Tilley told friends on Facebook the word that he’d had a heart attack wasn’t correct. He said he’d passed out but was feeling fine.
Shanley said that when he arrived at the school Saturday, the day after the game, Tilley was there, watching film of Lafayette Jeff’s 51-33 win over Michigan City.
Players, stunned by the episode the night before, were all about fist bumps and hugs for Tilley on Saturday. Since then, Tilley has been on what he calls “Clev timeout,” out for Lafayette Jeff’s trip to Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis Friday. He’s scheduled for a number of tests this week and Tuesday, with hopes of being back on the field by Wednesday’s practice.
“After all that,” Shanley said Monday. “But without Clev, I’m sure, the situation doesn’t end as well as it does.”
Clevenger, who teaches physical education at Earhart Elementary and a class at Jeff, spends afternoons tending to Broncho athletes once practices and games start. Few, if any, kids who’ve played a sport at Lafayette Jeff over the past three-plus decades didn’t come across Clevenger in some way, at some point.
On Monday, a parade of athletes come through the training room after school, looking for him to wrap an ankle or to check on some other ding picked up in a game, match or meet.
After telling a cross country runner to lay off a sore ankle for the day and giving him some alternative workout and nutrition advice – “Are you allergic to anything, besides homework?” he asks at one point – Clevenger climbed onto an ATV to deliver water coolers to the tennis team, then back to Scheumann Stadium to set up a drinking station for the football team, before scooting over to Loeb Stadium blocks away to check on the girls soccer team. On the way out, he gave several coaches warnings about a storm expected to roll in before the end of practice.
“It’s a little bit of everything, every day,” Clevenger said.
Shanley said it was more than that.
“As a coach, coming to Lafayette Jeff my first year, I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Shanley said. “Clev was someone I could always lean on. He knows the inner-workings of how things work here, and he just wants to see his people succeed. During a game, he’s got everyone taped and ready, and then he’s over there fixing helmets, of all things. Whatever it takes. … What he does for our school and our kids is so much.”
Clevenger is with the varsity football team for games, including those on the road. Which is why he was in Michigan City Friday night. Typically, he’s dealing with minor injuries, sprains and popping in the occasional dislocated finger.
In 2006, he was among the first to tend to Todd Clark, an official who suffered a heart attack during a Lafayette Jeff game against Fishers. Clark, a Lafayette veterinarian who died in 2021, survived that night. (IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel wrote about that game in this 2015 feature about Clark.)
Clevenger said he’d had nothing close to that, again, until Friday night in Michigan City.
“That’s two too many,” Clevenger said. “I can tell you that, for sure.”
Tilley said that on Friday night he tried to persuade EMTs to let him stay and coach. He said that as he went into the ambulance, they informed him that wasn’t going to happen. He was home that night. On Sunday, Tilley said someone came up to him at church and told him: “‘What are you doing here? I thought you were dead.’ I was like, Hey, man, good to see you, too.”
Tilley was back in his McCutcheon classroom Monday, scheduling follow-up medical tests everyone was telling him he should get.
Tilley said the episode, for him, was really a story about Clevenger and one about what it’s like to be part of a high school team. Tilley has coached football for 31 years, including stints at Central Catholic, McCutcheon, Benton Central and, most recently, Twin Lakes. Hoping for a role that wouldn’t include an hour drive, each way, to Monticello to coach at Twin Lakes, he landed a position this season with Shanley’s staff at Lafayette Jeff.
“In 31 years, you end up getting close to a lot kids, a lot of people, to where, for me, it’s really family,” Tilley said. “When you have a heart attack – or whatever it was that I had – and word gets around, you get a lot of messages. My phone was blowing up, it’s still blowing up from all these people I coached and was around from all that time. It’s great to be part of that kind of family. …
“Clev is a big part of that family,” Tilley said.
After Friday’s win, Shanley called Clevenger in to do the break, where the shout that night was, “Family.” Video Richard posted on social media showed players crowding around Clevenger, tapping his shoulders and offering hugs.
“That’s the job,” Clevenger said a few days later. “A little bit of everything.”
Thanks for supporting independent, local reporting. if you’ve been thinking about it, today’s a good day to subscribe.
Brand new: You can get group subscriptions to the Based in Lafayette reporting project. Get a 15% discount if you purchase four or more subscriptions as a group. Click here for details or to get started …