Oft-injured Fleck not hurting on value

Tegan Johnston/The Herald
Forest Park’s Noah Fleck contorted for a shot attempt Saturday against Evansville Mater Dei, when the Rangers collected the program’s 11th sectional title. Forest Park is set for a matchup with Crawford County at noon Saturday in the Class 2A regional at Paoli with the help of Fleck, who’s missed just one game this season while coping with an array of injuries spanning from head to toe.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
bperkins@dcherald.com


On the basketball floor, nothing’s wrong with Noah Fleck. He can run the point or guard a center. In a 90-foot race from one baseline to the other, he could outsprint practically anyone. Sometimes before the start of a quarter, he’ll cozy up a few inches away from the guy he’s guarding long before the ball is inbounded, sending the signal that scoring won’t be easy.

Off the basketball floor, everything’s wrong with Noah Fleck.

The ankle. The two mild concussions he’s had this season. The shoulder. The currently dodgy back. Fleck doesn’t even mention the wrist that had just been taped just moments earlier prior to Tuesday’s basketball practice, because in the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor nick for the Forest Park junior who’s become the poster child for pain tolerance.

When he’s playing, Fleck gives little clue anything is wrong. After games is when he looks less like a 17-year-old and more like an achy 75-year-old, the way he gingerly shuffles around the corridor outside the Ranger locker room for the standard postgame routine of getting adjusted by the team doctor.

“Back here (after games), he’s in a lot of pain,” Ranger coach Jeff Litherland said. “But when he walks out on the floor, he’s there to do a job and he does a really good job of it.”

Fortunately for Forest Park, Fleck’s skill set has the same breadth as his injury list, and that has the Rangers (18-9) proceeding in the postseason with a clash versus Crawford County (19-6) at approximately noon Saturday in the second semifinal of the Class 2A regional at Paoli. In true Fleck style, two games of Forest Park’s sectional run brought a different scrape, yet neither kept him down for too long.

In the sectional opener, a collision with a Perry Central defender on a drive to the bucket caused an off-balance landing on his right shooting wrist. “And it’s been hurting ever since,” said Fleck, who had it taped and soldiered on to Friday’s semifinal. There, Fleck went sprawling after a loose ball early in the second half, and the headfirst impact caused his feet to snap up and touch his back. “It cramped up,” Fleck said of his back, “and it’s been cramping ever since.”

“He played the whole second half with (two) ribs out of place, and he couldn’t hardly breathe,” Litherland said.
“We wanted to take him out but we didn’t want him to get stiff, and he’s like, ‘I’m all right, I’m all right.’”

Litherland continued: “Saturday morning he came into practice, and you would have never known anything was wrong with him. I asked him (how he felt) and he just smiles, said ‘I’m fine.’”

Fleck’s self-diagnosis is similar in regards to the ankle he sprained in early December; he grades that at about 90 percent healed, though if his foot twists the wrong way Fleck still feels the pull of pain all the way up through his outer calf. In the season opener he sustained a slight concussion, then got another near season’s end against Pike Central. That game included two extended stoppages for Fleck, the other for his shoulder that got twisted then yanked up in a scrum.

All this after a fall season in which Fleck, who quarterbacked the football team and also played on the soccer team, missed a few weeks in football with a partial tear in his rotator cuff. As Fleck rested the shoulder, there was a window of time in which he was cleared to play soccer. Almost like clockwork, Fleck took a cleat to the hip in a soccer game against Evansville Mater Dei, had to be carried off the field, and incurred a bone bruise so severe he almost had to be taken to the hospital.

The perpetual mass of maladies: a badge of honor for playing hard, or a lightning rod for bad luck? Fleck figures he falls on both sides.

“I think most of them have come off of hustling plays,” Fleck said, starting to grin, “but I am kind of accident prone.”

It’s gotten to the point where self-care and the need to rest has usurped social life for Fleck on weekend nights after games.

“There are a lot of times where I go home, ice my ankle. Here lately I’ve had to put ice and heat on my back to make that feel better,” said Fleck, who’s also been battling a stomach bug early this week. “But yeah, that’s pretty much been the whole season — just go home and relax after games.”

Other Rangers turn in glossier stats than Fleck, who ranks fourth on the team in points, rebounds and steals and is second in assists. Yet Litherland recognized his value instantly when Fleck earned a few starts his freshman year, and “he’s one of the better athletes I’ve coached here in a long time,” Litherland said. Flexible, too, as the 6-foot-2 Fleck took on Tell City’s 6-5 Braeden Beard and Gibson Southern’s 6-7 Wes Obermeier defensively after starting both games on perimeter players; Beard was held seven points below his scoring norm and Obermeier was five points below his average in those games.

“He just plays so hard all the time,” Litherland said. “He knows that his team needs him. ... He doesn’t make excuses.”

“He just plays through (the injuries), and I think highly of him because of that,” teammate Braydon Voegerl added. “I’ve always thought of our (junior class) as hard-nosed, and we’re not afraid to dive on the floor for a ball or run through a brick wall for Coach if he asked. We kind of all rub off on each other as playing tough.”

Voegerl was key in talking Fleck into returning to play football this season, and several people have been campaigning Fleck to join the track team this spring.

Sorry. Maybe try again next year. Fleck’s already declined the offer.

And while he’s in no hurry to disembark from this postseason ride in basketball, Fleck can’t help but smile a bit at the thought of what he gets to enjoy soon.

“I’m definitely looking forward to how far we go in the tournament, because I think we can do some damage if we put our minds to it and we play like we can,” Fleck said. “But I’m also looking forward to the couple weeks after basketball ends to relax a little bit.”




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