Grimm, Why We Got Him
by Stephen Copeland – Sounding Board Staff Writer
If Bruce Grimm Jr. were strictly a basketball player, he wouldn’t be at Grace College. He’d be at East Tennessee State University, the Division I school he transferred from that made it to the NCAA tournament last year. Or he’d be at Sacramento State, University of Hawaii, or IUPUI, schools that heavily recruited him in high school. You have options like that when you score 40 points in the state championship game and set an all-time state championship record for three-pointers (8). He may as well have had “D1” written on his forehead.
But Bruce – although Division I material (he started five times last year for ETSU) – isn’t playing Division I. That’s because his forehead reads something else…
Bruce’s aunt, Angela Mason, remembers Bruce’s father’s (her brother) condition three years ago. He was lying in a hospital bed in his gown, colon removed, kidneys on the verge of shutting down, with salmonella poisoning and pancreatic disease. He was holding a radio wrapped in tin foil out a hospital window so he could pick up reception for the Rochester vs. Tippecanoe Valley basketball game.
“I’m sure in the back of his mind, ‘Junior’ was thinking, ‘Am I going to lose my dad, too?’” Angela said, reflecting on Bruce’s father’s frail physical state.
Considering the nightmare Bruce had experienced already, it wouldn’t have been surprising. In three years, Bruce lost his mother, Debbie, to cancer, moved from Florida to Indiana (a tough transition for a teenage kid) and saw his father nearly end up in a coffin as well. Not to mention, while every other kid was playing with Play-Doh and watching cartoons in elementary school, Bruce was leading his two younger brothers through a complicated separation of his parents – a separation that drove his father into a pit of emotions, making him unemployable and unable to provide financially for his family.
Bruce “just had to grow up really fast,” Angela continued. “I think about the things he went through in his young life…but he has always been able to make a positive out of anything.”
His mother’s passing left Bruce with a choice – a choice that molded him into the man he is today. “People say you can go down two paths when you lose a parent,” Bruce said. “You can take the negative road…but that didn’t connect with me. I value life more. I wanted to do things right.”
If you ask Bruce why he returned to northern Indiana, he’ll tell you it’s because he wanted to be closer to his family, which makes you wonder: What family? His mother is gone, and his father lives 380 miles away in Tennessee. The family he’s referring to, however, is his Aunt Angela, the closest substitute to a mother he’s had. And it was the death of his mother that led him, his brothers and his father to Bourbon, Ind., where his Aunt Angela, Uncle Brad and four cousins (he calls them “sisters”) reside.
“She was just always there for me,” Bruce said, remembering his high school days. “If I needed to come over at two in the morning, she would say that was fine. She was just like any mom. I could talk to her about things. My aunt’s family is more than just an aunt and uncle family. They are my family.”
Whatever it was, the two of them clicked. Maybe it was because Angela understood the type of pressure Bruce was under. After all, Bruce Grimm Sr., a 1973 Indiana All-Star, was her brother.
“After a game, if he (my brother) didn’t score ‘X’ amount of points, you were always scared to be home,” Angela said.
She understood the pain of the pressure because her brother went through it.
“[I told Bruce’s dad] that as long as I’m around, you will never do to him what Dad did to you,” Angela continued. “If he came home tomorrow and said ‘I don’t want to play anymore,’ he is still your son. He (my brother) would cry and realize right away that he means more than basketball. He just didn’t know how to express that very well because that’s all he knew.”
When junior baseball player Nate Wottring saw a private plane fly over Miller Field during a game last spring, it finally hit him: Bruce Grimm Jr. was coming to Grace. The plane was carrying head coach Jim Kessler and starting post-player Duke Johnson. They were traveling to Tennessee to sign Bruce, Wottring’s close friend from Rochester High School.
And to think that it all started as a joke…
The talk began last November when Bruce told Wottring about his homesickness and discontent at ETSU. “Come to Grace,” Wottring said matter of factly. “We have a good basketball team.”
Never did he imagine he’d actually do it.
Bruce and Wottring continued talking throughout the year. And eventually, Bruce began talking to Wottring’s roommate, Duke Johnson, via Skype – and the two of them got close. Wottring jokes that Skype is the sole reason Bruce is here.
“Back in high school, I never would have dreamt that we would be playing baseball and basketball at the same school,” Wottring said. “Everyone thought he was going D1 for sure. It was a complete joke at first. I just told myself, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’”
When Kessler began talking to Wottring (he couldn’t talk to Bruce because it would violate recruiting pro- cedures), Wottring began to see it. It was still incomprehensible – this was the Indiana Mr. Basketball Runner-up we’re talking about – but it was serious.
“God knew what he was doing when he brought Bruce here,” Wottring said. “I didn’t think it would work out like that, but that’s the way God works. Not only does it speak a lot of Rochester athletics, but it speaks a lot about what God’s master plan is.”
After Bruce’s mother Debbie’s funeral, Angela remembers one of Bruce’s brothers asking, “What is a church?” Very weird, considering Bruce, having no exposure to church in his childhood, still prayed and recognized the existence of God without his mother or father ever telling him about a deity – without his parents hardly ever taking him to church. But what else can you do when you go through the trials Bruce has experienced? Where else can you turn? Perhaps that is what tragedies do: They make you look up.
“I always was one to pray,” Bruce said. “It was cool to me. Even through the hard times I went through, God was always there for me. I always felt like I was close to Him, but I wanted to know more…”
That’s the other reason Bruce came to Grace – to know more about God.
“Family is why I came back to Indiana,” Bruce said. “And religion and learning more about God is why I came to Grace.”
Bruce Grimm Jr. just happens to play basketball, too.
This article was originally printed in the October 1, 2010 issue of The Sounding Board.