More Than a Game: Cougars’ Halvorsen named Daily Reporter Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year

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Greenfield-Central’s John Halvorsen battles for the ball against East Central during their sectional semifinal game on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. Halvorsen has been named the 2021 Daily Reporter Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — When John Halvorsen is on a soccer field, life simply makes sense. More times than not, the rules and potential results are always clear-cut on the pitch.

Attack. Defend. Pass. Control. Score. Win. Maybe lose. You get what you put into each game and the sport, the Greenfield-Central senior maintains.

Off the field, though, things don’t tend to follow those same predictable protocols. Life can be devastating, heartbreaking and humbling.

Halvorsen learned these life lessons much sooner than most from witnessing the passing of his father, Zach, five years ago, to his bout with a ruptured ACL in his right knee during the fall of 2020 and the heartache of losing the respect of his teammates and himself momentarily before regaining both this season.

Adversity has undercut Halvorsen throughout his teenage years, but with each shattering moment has come rebirth, growth and appreciation.

There were stints while on the field the past few years when Halvorsen’s thoughts would drift to everything he’s endured, but the game is where he centers his mind.

“It’s been my everything. Life has been pretty hectic for me all around, especially with my home life, but the Greenfield soccer family has provided me a very safe place and a couple of my teachers have given me a safe place in the classroom. I could not be more thankful for that,” said Halvorsen, the 2021 Daily Reporter Boys Soccer Athlete of the Year.

“It’s my escape really. If I’m feeling sad or mad or anything, I just go and play soccer without a worry in the world.”

Halvorsen recalls kicking his first soccer ball when he was 4, and from that point, he never stopped.

The game has guided him to three All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selections, an Indiana Soccer Coaches Association honorable mention this season and three HHC team titles (2018, 2019, 2021) to go with a pair of sectional championships (2018 and 2019).

He honed his skill set with Indiana Impact Soccer Club, formerly known as USF Real, which coincidentally was where he found his second family, competing with eventual future Greenfield-Central teammate Zack Bell and others.

“When I was younger I always played up. I never played my true age, so I played with Zack (Bell), Trevor (Sawyer) and Brantley (Kuntz) and Caleb (Mundell),” Halvorsen said.

In 2019, the group proved nearly unbeatable, finishing 19-2 overall while reaching the regional finals and securing the program’s fourth consecutive and eighth sectional title overall.

“It was straight bliss. I think it was my sophomore year when we lost two games, and it was one of the best feelings ever,” Halverson said. “It was a really unexplainable bond with everyone together. Everything just ran smoothly and it was amazing all the time. We worked hard at practice and out of practice we were brothers. When it came game time, we were always serious and ready.”

Soccer gave Halvorsen an outlet to smile, genuinely, in 2018 and 2019, especially after his eighth-grade year while enrolled at Knightstown when his world came crashing down.

“I went to Knightstown my eighth-grade year, and my dad (Zach Halvorsen) passed away that year (from liver failure). Not many people know that. That took a big toll on me, and then my mom (Amanda Catron), who was married to my step-dad at the time; they divorced my freshman year and everything kind of went downhill from there,” Halvorsen said.

The day Halvorsen’s father passed, he vividly recalls anxiously awaiting the first day of basketball tryouts after school, hoping to make the team, until his teacher received a call and instructed him to head to the office.

“My mom was there to pick me up,” Halvorsen said. “I went out and got in the van and her and my brother (Josiah) were both in there. It was a very silent and empty feeling, but she eventually started talking and said my dad was in the hospital and unresponsive at the time. We drove up there, and he was on life support, and the nurse came in. She told my dad’s mom that there was no way to help him. She could either prolong his life or end it right there. My grandma decided to take him off, so the nurse took him off life support while we were in the room. It was very heartbreaking. I didn’t really know him much of my life, but it’s your dad. My emotions overtook me, and I just crawled up into my brother’s arms and sat there. I didn’t know what to do. It was a very hard time in my life after that.”

Most wouldn’t know, however, as Halvorsen excelled on the pitch with the Cougars as a standout center-back, a defensive stopper, from the first day of his freshman season. He would confide in only a select few about the pain he felt inside.

While his father wasn’t around a majority of his childhood due to his parents’ separation and other factors, Halvorsen carried the weight of his emotions as he focused on playing at a high level.

“Very few student-athletes have had to overcome more than John. In fact, he has had more roadblocks than any athlete I have ever coached, and every step of the way, he has met challenges with a positive attitude and great work ethic,” G-C coach Matt McConnell said. “You always try to help kids understand that it isn’t about how much you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up, and for John, he sets the standard for everyone around him. Often, we would wonder how much more this kid had in him. And every time, John would give the most resounding and convincing answer — a silent nod of his head, maybe a ‘yes, coach,’ and then he would pick himself up, push forward and give everything he had to become a better athlete and a better man.”

Halvorsen’s perseverance would be tested his junior year on Sept. 10, when after scoring two goals at rival Mt. Vernon, his season ended due to a knee injury before the Cougars prevailed in a shootout.

“That was devastating,” Halvorsen said. “We were playing Mt. Vernon and the kid hit me from behind and as soon as it happened, I knew it was not good. It ended up being a ruptured ACL (in the right knee) and it felt like it took years to recover from it.”

Unable to get surgery until January 2021, Halvorsen admits the recovery process took a “big mental toll,” but he kept pushing through after Dr. Chistopher DeFalco of Hancock Regional Hospital performed the operation. His physical therapy spanned a little more than five months with the assistance of former G-C teammate Abe Buescher’s mother, Michelle, and it required a few more months to get cleared prior to the 2021-22 school year.

“I just try to look at it as I’ve experienced quite a few things some kids my age have no clue about, and I’ll be able to use it to overcome difficult times when things might happen to pop up in my life,” Halvorsen said.

Unfortunately, one of those situations came around before his senior season as his off-field life kept spiraling.

“At the beginning of the season, I got into some stuff that I shouldn’t have. I broke the code of conduct with the school, and the athletic department, so I was on a suspension for the first four games,” Halvorsen said. “I do own up to it. It was my fault, and I moved past it. I took ownership of it.”

As a true leader, Halvorsen surrendered his captain’s arm band prior to the season during the team’s annual camp session in Anderson, a title he held since his sophomore year. Feeling it was the proper thing to do, Halvorsen didn’t believe it was right to lead the team because of the example he set following his mistake.

Once he returned on Aug. 28, however, he set out to regain the trust of his coaches and teammates. Against HHC foe Yorktown, he provided his first assist of the season within five minutes after checking into his first game. He finished the year with two goals and two assists and a plethora of efforts statistics don’t track.

Soon afterwards, Halvorsen was once again named team captain. “They knew I was a good leader, but they wanted me to show them that I wanted it back. It was very humbling. It showed me that people are going to make mistakes, but you have to learn how to move past them. No matter what it is. It was a good feeling to get back because I know every single one of those boys look up to me as a leader on and off the field. I don’t want to set a bad example for them.”

Halvorsen’s leadership rubbed off on junior standout Bryce Kinnaman and led to a four-way tie for the HHC, which the Cougars (6-9, 5-2 HHC) shared with New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown. His coaches’ support is what Halvorsen credits for his desire to be his absolute best.

“Without them, I would be in a very different place than where I am today,” Halvorsen said. “Everything has humbled me a lot because it showed me that there can be people around you with a smile on their face, but they could be going through the worst thing at home or anything in life. It’s shown me to treat people how I would treat those I love.”

His loved ones continue to support Halvorsen, including his girlfriend Hailey and her parents, Brandy and Derek Bell, who have helped him with living arrangements as he finishes up school.

“They’ve been a very strong support system for me,” Halvorsen said. “Thankful is an understatement. They’ve been amazing.”

In his final game this season, Halvorsen left nothing on the field as the Cougars pushed sectional champion East Central to the brink in the semifinals before the Trojans escaped with a 4-3 shootout victory.

Halvorsen was one of the last players to leave the field turf at the Mt. Vernon Sectional on Oct. 6.

“As a coach, you can often see what is special about a player that other coaches or fans cannot. However, in John’s case, everyone noticed. Officials noticed and reported to the IHSAA about how respectful he was on the field. Fans noticed and would often comment to us about how great it was to have him on the field,” McConnell said.

“After losing in a shootout to East Central in sectional, their entire coaching staff wanted to talk to him and said how sad they were to know his career had ended. The state coaches association noticed, as seen in his three All-District awards and his two All-State awards. In fact, both of his All-State awards came on seasons where injuries prevented him from playing the entire year. John is a standout, and we couldn’t be happier with him as a player, but more importantly, we are so very proud of the person he is becoming off the field and believe he has a bright future in front of him.”

Halvorsen isn’t committed to a collegiate program, but he’s not ruling out the possibility in the future. In the interim, he’s been taking time to allow his body fully recover from the grueling past 12 months. He’s also spent the winter to reflect, often talking with his brother, who lives on Indianapolis’ eastside while setting goals.

“I enjoy playing the sport a lot, but my body is really beat up, so I don’t know if I could take the whole competitiveness right now. Get my knees stronger,” Halvorsen said. “Later on in life, I definitely would like to coach soccer. I feel like I have pretty good knowledge within the game and I just want to give back.”

2021 Daily Reporter All-County Boys Soccer Team

John Halvorsen, Sr., Greenfield-Central

Elliott Canova, So., New Palestine

Bryce Kinnaman, Jr., Greenfield-Central

Jordin Jones, Fr., Greenfield-Central

Hunter Stine, Jr., Greenfield-Central

Zack Johnson, Sr., Mt. Vernon

Garrett Canova, Sr., New Palestine

Jordan Small, Sr., Mt. Vernon

Tyler Webb, Sr., Mt. Vernon

Alex Richwine, So., New Palestine

Ethan Windham, Sr., New Palestine

Tyler Kerkhof, Jr., Greenfield-Central

Honorable Mentions: New Palestine — Cohen Wintin, Andon Colclazier, Sam Bacon, Zachery Smith, Andrew Potter, Josh Lambdin, Juan Camacho, Blake Bobrow; Mt. Vernon — Brennan La Belle, James Cripe, Bryce Glazier; Greenfield-Central — Drew Davidson, Jeff Fraire, Gian Colassaco, Josiah Findley.

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