Marine’s number, memory still flicker

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Northeast Dubois senior Bill Schepers wears No. 30 this year in honor of Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012. Terwiske played baseball in high school, and the Jeeps are keeping his memory alive by selecting one senior every year to wear his old uniform number, 30.

Herald Sports Editor

The more that Northeast Dubois baseball coach Brian Kirchoff thought about it, the more he realized it’d be a shame to confine the remembrance to a single day.

Last year at this time amid a Saturday afternoon tournament, the Jeep baseball team paid tribute to Marine Lance Cpl. Alec Terwiske, the 2010 alumnus of the school who was killed in combat operations in Afghanistan a little more than two years after he graduated from high school. On that day last year, the Jeeps donned camouflage caps for the pair of games. Jeep baseball player Bill Schepers recalls the vivacity that emanated from the day, which ended with a walk-off victory in the final inning of an afternoon swirled with bittersweet feelings. That day, the team also unveiled a baseball-shaped sign situated on the right-field fence with the name “Terwiske” and the number 30, representing his old jersey number.

But why let that memory come and go so rapidly, Kirchoff thought?

So the emblems have remained. The sign still hangs, not far from where Terwiske once manned the right-field spot as a reserve player. And starting this year, Kirchoff and his team are ensuring that Terwiske’s aura remains everlasting.

Kirchoff has begun selecting one senior who mirrors Terwiske in effort, attitude and sacrifice to wear the fallen solider’s old No. 30 for the season. Even on a team where smarts and citizenship seem to be prerequisite — three of the school’s four valedictorians are baseball players — one guy was earmarked all along as most worthy of 30.

Schepers wears it on his back this spring. And while he expressed some surprise about the whole deal, those who’ve known both Terwiske and Schepers marvel at the modesty and character of both.

“There’s so many things that Bill does that aren’t noticeable out on the field, but just the type of teammate that Bill is, is just so much a reminder of Alec,” says Kirchoff, who wanted to begin a baseball tribute similar to the one the basketball team did with the framed jersey in the gym for Marine Cpl. Eric Lueken, the 2001 Northeast Dubois grad who was killed in service in Iraq in 2006. “(Bill) is totally into his teammates and his team. He’s not just about what he does. And that’s the way Alec was.”

Terwiske may not have been the prototypical jock. His stint in baseball was perhaps as much a social experience as an athletic endeavor, but when Alec decided to join the baseball team for the first time as a junior, it was around the time he was setting the foundation for his foray into military service.

Late in high school, Terwiske shot up about 3 inches. He began slimming down his sophomore year. He became a regular occupant of the weight room after he made the decision to enlist. He turned into a “big, strong kid,” recalls Bruce Terwiske, who is first cousins with Alec’s father, Alan, and has also coached Schepers as an assistant for the basketball team.

The playing time that Terwiske saw was fleeting. To him, it didn’t matter. Baseball was a chance to spend more time with buddies like Logan Fromme and Nathan Merkley. The friends, who’d occasionally square off in all-night video game sessions in high school, all joined the service after graduation.

“I think he just wanted to be involved in something,” Bruce Terwiske says of Alec.

“People were always like, ”˜Why are you playing?’ His answer was he always just liked it, and he wanted to be around. From that standpoint, I think (Alec and Bill) would be very similar in that it’s more of an experience of being part of a team.”

Bill never knew Alec personally, despite a proximity in age and as part of a close-quarter community. Alec graduated from Northeast Dubois a few months before Bill arrived as a freshman.

But in the aftermath of Terwiske’s death on Labor Day weekend in 2012, Schepers gained one simple take-away about Alec.

“A lot of people cared for him,” says Schepers, who’s been part of two sectional champion teams this year in basketball and tennis. “I remember the game last year where we wore camo hats in his honor and how we came out with energy that day, and how I need to do that every time in order to play in his honor.”

A sign honoring Terwiske also hangs in right field, where he used to play.

The No. 30 jersey is spacious, to say the least. The home jersey droops a bit off of the 5-foot-11 frame of the left fielder and 9-hole hitter, but that one actually fits better than the gargantuan road jersey, which is a “taaaad too big” for Schepers to wear Kirchoff joked. To accommodate any future players to wear the number, Kirchoff had to order it in an extra-large size, so Schepers wears his old number, 2, for away games instead.

Whenever he switches back to 30, the weight of the numerals is noticed.

“It’s definitely a reminder. I can’t take a day off, no matter what. Just seeing that 30 on my jersey, it’s special. I’ve got to represent, every time,” says Schepers, who’s planning to attend Rose-Hulman after graduating next month. “There’s no way you can take a day off. It’s just an extra bit of motivation, for me to have more energy and then to get the team more energized.”

Schepers kind of has a penchant for that, after all.

Bruce Terwiske remarks how “there are very, very few kids like Bill to come along that were genuinely happy when good things happened to other people.” During basketball season, even when Schepers realized his playing time was likely to be patchy, “he worked as hard as anyone,” Bruce Terwiske recalls.

In fact, it was Schepers who dealt an unseen assist during a basketball game late in the season. Teammate Tyler Haas had been struggling with free throws during one contest. In a tight game, the Jeeps couldn’t afford any squandered points.

After three or four consecutive misses by Haas, Bruce Terwiske was desperate. He looked down the bench and got Schepers’ attention.

“I looked at Bill, and I said, ”˜Help him.’ And he kind of looked at me (strange) and I said, ”˜Help the boy.’ And he literally made a free throw motion while Tyler’s shooting, and (Tyler’s free throw) goes in. And I look at him, and I go, ”˜That’s a teammate.’

“I can only think of one other kid I’ve ever coached that I’d say this about, but he was literally able to put himself in the body of the guys that were playing, that closely. You’ve got supportive kids and things like that, but normally you can kind of tell they’re happy but some of it is kind of forced. With Bill, he just loves it. ... Ever since I’ve known Bill, that’s the way he’s been.”

Schepers is modest to the degree that when Kirchoff informed him of the plan to wear Alec’s No. 30, Kirchoff wasn’t sure if Schepers fully gripped the significance of it. It’s not easy getting a rise out of Schepers. Even after he belted two doubles in last Saturday’s win over Paoli, “automatically, when he got back in the dugout, he was talking up somebody else,” Kirchoff notes.

That’s what it means to wear No. 30, and Kirchoff emphasizes how much their teammates revered both Schepers and Terwiske. For Bill, it’s been all the little sacrifices. For Alec, the ultimate sacrifice.

When Alec was on the team, “he wanted to play like everybody else, but you really never noticed it, because he always had a smile on his face, always joking around,” Kirchoff says. “I know a lot of his teammates talked about him, and they loved watching Alec play. Any time he’d get into a ballgame he’d have everybody’s attention. And that says a lot about a kid.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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