RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — In many ways this season’s practices are not all that different than they’ve ever been.

Kateri Goldammer still roams the Ramstein High School basketball court, directing traffic, shouting instructions and commanding attention. Her words and deeds have carried the weight of authority here since 2009, when as a gifted freshman point guard Goldammer assumed on-court command of the program and led it capably into a new era of success.

Now, a sharp whistle calls a scrimmage to order, and the illusion to an abrupt end. Her teammates form sides as Goldammer lingers in limbo.

A new freshman, as raw and promising as Goldammer was not very long ago, takes charge. Goldammer drifts to the sideline and observes, her Royals gear replaced by a leg brace over blue jeans — a point guard only by proxy.

A gratifying high school career flowed naturally from Goldammer’s first day as a Royal, sporting wins, statistics and accolades. As a seasoned junior, she had Ramstein on the cusp of a DODDS-Europe Division I championship in February 2012.

Two days before the championship game, Goldammer was jostled as she attempted a layup against Heidelberg. When she landed, the instincts that had carried her to basketball glory now revealed a devastating truth.

“Instead of being upset that I was injured, I was upset because I was done,” Goldammer said.

“It’s a feeling, when you injure yourself, and you know it’s bad.”

Her on-court assessments were nearly always correct; this one was no different. Her injuries included a torn anterior cruciate ligament, requiring surgery and long months of rehabilitation. A setback, to be sure; but it might also have served as a way forward to an inspiring tale of redemption upon her return to the court as a senior.

But no tidy ending was forthcoming for Goldammer.

Her recovery lagged. The self-assurance that was her on-court trademark failed to return, replaced by crushing ambiguity.

“With my heart and my mind, I was ready to play. It was just my body,” Goldammer recalled. “I kind of knew. I would do certain things and it would kind of give out on me. There were things here and there where I kind of knew: ‘It’s not ready.’”

With impossibly painful timing, Goldammer was again proven right.

On Nov. 5, less than a month from the first game of her last season as a Ramstein Royal, she learned that her injury would require another operation, this time costing her senior season and the balance of her high school playing career.

The news, of course, was “devastating.” But it also brought finality, relief from the murky fits and starts of a haunted summer. Her fate settled, she searched for a new way to contribute to the team she loved.

“The type of person she is, she said, ‘Hey, what can I do?’” said Carter Hollenbeck, the first-year Ramstein head coach who assumed control of the program just as he lost his stalwart senior leader. “And I knew she wasn’t asking to be a manager.”

While she recovers from the second surgery, the role Goldammer has assumed defies easy label or definition. But it keeps her immersed in the game. Hollenbeck compares her to a college graduate assistant, though the term “graduate” does not yet apply.

Regardless, Goldammer’s effect on Ramstein basketball is undeniable.

“People might think, ‘oh, she’s a senior, she’s not really coaching.’ But she does a lot,” said Breanna Martinez, the freshman point guard thrust into an unexpected starting role following Goldammer’s injury. “She’s there to calm me down.”

Ripples from the injury continue to spread through Goldammer’s life. She’s turned her academic focus to medicine, aiming to become an orthopedic surgeon and salvage young careers like her own. She likes the idea of joining the military after college and returning to Ramstein, the place she spent most of her childhood and will always consider home. The spark she’s shown from the sideline may produce a career in coaching.

These waning months of high school are profoundly different than Goldammer ever imagined. Her joy for the game, for her teammates persists, but it’s the joy of watching a friend succeed, of imparting a lesson and seeing in put into practice. On-court exuberance has been tempered, replaced by a perspective few 17-year-olds have.

“The more it keeps going, the more that I’m happy that I can be a part of the game. It’s still a big part of me,” Goldammer said. “It’s hard to watch, but I still feel a part of it.”

Twitter: @broomestripes

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now