The 2019 baseball season for the Van Alstyne High School Panthers was one to remember, with the Panthers advancing to the state tournament.
There were many great plays and memorable moments from that season, but one of the significant plays was in the third-round with the Panthers’ nemesis, the Pottsboro Cardinals.
In a tight game, the Cardinals batter launched a ball to center field. It looked like it would score multiple runs and put the Cardinals in the lead.
But Ethan Litzkow had other plans: He made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch that changed the game.
That play not only had an impact on the season for the Panthers, but would also have a lasting effect on Litzkow.
He would be out of the lineup for some of the playoffs because of the injury he sustained. However, he would play in the state semi-final game despite his condition.
That memory stands out to Litzkow when asked about his best memory of his high school playing career.
"Going to Dell Diamond with the boys for sure," he said.
For Litzkow, playing sports isn’t about personal glory or gain. He spoke multiple times about his teammates.
"For the boys" is more than just a slogan. Brotherhood is essential to Litzkow. When asked about life lessons that his coaches taught him, it was "to always fight for your brothers."
Coach Jimmy Haynes, speaking about his star outfielder, focused on Litzkow’s impact on others.
"He has been an important piece to our recent success. His consistency and leadership on the field will be hard to replace," Haynes said.
What would remain of the 2019 baseball season was more than memories, but also challenges for Litzkow.
The teen knew that he had issues with his arm heading into football season. But, with his parents, he decided that playing football his senior year would be worth it.
"They always pushed to be the best I could be, and they’re the reason I decided to play my senior season of football with one good arm," he said of his parents. "Looking back ... it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made."
Coach Mikeal Miller, speaking of Litzkow and that decision, recalled, "He worked out all summer with some pain and had to make a tough decision to have an operation and miss his senior year of football or wait for the surgery and miss part of baseball.
"Just playing football was a risk and a play away from injuring it again, but he chose to play the entire football season," Miller said. "He had to strap his shoulder up every day for practice and games. He never once complained, never once tried to get out of anything due to his injury. Every coach held their breath daily - and especially on Friday nights - that he didn’t get injured. But he played in 12 games as a two-way starter."
In his senior season of football, Litzkow played offense and defense for the bi-district champion Panthers.
Playing cornerback, he earned second team all-district with two interceptions and 17 single tackles. As a receiver, he scored two touchdowns on the season.
Playing football would delay the inevitable: surgery to repair his shoulder.
He had been rehabbing his shoulder for the return to baseball, but that season was cut short by the global coronavirus pandemic.
"It’s just one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of things that no one expected," Litzkow said. "I hurt my shoulder back in May in baseball season and didn’t realize anything was wrong until football season had already started.
"Still, I decided to play my senior year. Then, after football season, I had surgery and started rehab to be able to throw again for baseball. Just so much time, effort and pain all thrown away."
What wasn’t a waste, he said, was his time wearing Van Alstyne’s blue and white. He describes them as "some of the best years of my life.
"I made lifelong friends and memories that I’ll cherish forever," Litzkow said. "I did my best to soak up every second I had playing all of the sports I played and I will never forget any of them."
Miller said of Litzkow, "He showed incredible toughness and selflessness to make those decisions and play the way he did. Always a team-first player and an awesome young man."