And even now, Norwalk senior Austin Brown finds himself battling constant inflammation of a surgically-repaired Anterior Cruciate Ligament within his knee.
But all he has to do is take one look in the stands while grimacing in pain — and he knows it’s worth it.
“Part of the reason I played this year was for my grandparents,” Brown said of Keith and Becky Chapin, two longtime supporters of Norwalk athletics. “Everyone in my family has been good in athletics it seems, and they love sports in general — especially basketball for my grandfather.
“It makes it all really special, everything I do,” he added. “It makes me not second-guess any of my decisions that I make. It’s awesome to grow up in a family like this.”
As the state-ranked No. 14 Truckers (23-3) prepare to face a big challenge against No. 2-ranked Columbus South (25-1) in Thursday’s Division II regional semifinal at Bowling Green State University, it’s a reflective time for Brown and his family.
He tore his ACL in mid-August of 2017, losing the soccer and basketball seasons of his junior year in the process. There was the possibility of just focusing on tennis this year, where he was a Div. I district qualifier last season.
But among other factors in making sure he returned to basketball was the chance to play with his cousin, Garrett Chapin — and keep a longstanding family tradition in the sport at Norwalk going.
“He really wanted to play with Brandon (Haraway) and Garrett,” Norwalk head coach Steve Gray said. “Even during the preseason I didn’t really know how much Austin was going to be able to help us because of the knee surgery. Every once in a while it would swell up, and it never really has gone away.
“I know it’s cliché, but he has the heart of a champion,” Gray said of Brown. “There have been times where we’ve thought about sitting him for a week or so, but he’ll have no part of it. Austin is a pretty good tennis player — but he’s willing to put his team first.”
Garrett Chapin is in his second year as a key starter for the Truckers. But the sophomore didn’t get to play with Brown a year ago as he recovered from the injury. On top of just getting to play alongside his cousin, Garrett said he is more proud of his contributions this season.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen with Austin,” Garrett said. “We always hoped for the best, and it turned out great obviously. And even with a bad knee, he’s one of our best defenders.
“It’s fun knowing I have family out on the court with me,” he added. “It’s something we’d talk about when we were little, and to make it happen has been a lot of fun.”
The late Robert (Bob) Chapin and his wife, Troas, had five kids: the late Bruce, Keith, Travis, Marcia and Fred Chapin.
Matt Chapin, Fred’s son, also a former Norwalk football and basketball player, is Garrett’s father. Jennifer (Chapin) Brown is the daughter of Keith and Becky, and is Austin’s mother. She played college basketball at Ohio Dominican University after graduating from Norwalk.
Keith scored the first official basket at the Norwalk Middle School when the Truckers switched from playing at the old high school on Main Street to the junior high, where they played games until the current high school opened in 2001-02.
On top of all the family exploits in high school, which also included several standout Chapin runners, two of the family businesses in town include RCS Herefords on U.S. 250 as well as the former Chapin & Chapin, Inc. construction. Today, both Matt Chapin and Dustin Brown, Austin’s father, work at Lake Erie Construction on South Norwalk Road.
Last, but certainly not least, the family name is synonymous with local 4-H groups and the Huron County Fair. Garrett’s other grandfather is Gene Pickworth, a well-known auctioneer.
Garrett noted the Chapin name has certainly made him well-known throughout the community — even if he may not know everyone who knows him.
“You get to know a lot of people who just recognize the last name,” he said. “And it’s a good experience to be able to meet new people and get to know them. We’re just out here doing sports because we love it, and we want to make our own legacy for our family.”
Gray noted that Becky and Keith were visible supporters of the basketball program long before any relation started working their way through.
“They are what small-town America is all about,” he said. “It’s the relatives, the nephews, grandchildren, and having that moment with them after games. Becky and Keith have been big-time Norwalk supporters ever since I got here 18 years ago.”
Enjoying the ride
For senior team manager Macy Chapin, the last three months have been surreal.
The Truckers were expected to be a solid team that could compete in the SBC Lake Division this season. But a 23-3 record, outright league champs, a state ranking and a Sweet 16 appearance?
“A really satisfying and crazy experience for our family,” she said. “We didn’t know if Austin was going to come back, and his defense is a huge part of our team. He’s proven hard work pays off.
“Then with what Garrett has done in high school so far is awesome,” she added. “I always get asked if I was his sister, and I have to tell people he’s my little cousin. I know he’s big, but he’s definitely my little cousin. I’m proud to see how far he’s already come in sports.”
Austin talked about having family not only on the court, but off the court on the bench during games and at every practice.
“We’re always giving her grief and joke around with her, but it’s really fun to have Macy out here, too,” Brown said. “Whether it’s helping out at the practices or with laundry, or anything, our team managers do a lot.”
As for the family support, Macy reassures it not only runs deep — but it’s first-class.
“My grandpa Fred right now has huge signs out right now on 250 supporting both the team, and of course Garrett,” said the daughter of Abby (Chapin) Blake. “He is proud of that kid all the way and is his No. 1 fan.
“My aunt Libby has anxiety with Garrett when he gets knocked down, which happened twice in the last game,” she added. “Obviously having aunt Becky in the high school office, then her and Keith are everywhere and everyone knows them. A lot of my family had painted faces and colored hair for the last game … we’re all super big Norwalk supporters, and we’re all proud to be a part of it.”