SFPNN Special Edition – 03/06/09 – The Right Thing to Do

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— Thanks to author, Joseph Walker, for today's Special Edition

By Joseph Walker

      Darius and Johntel have a lot in common.  They are both talented high school seniors.  They both love basketball.  They are both captains of their respective high school basketball teams.

      But on one Saturday night in February, they were forever linked in the minds of all who were present for a mutual act of courage, sportsmanship and respect.

      According to a news article on the Rivals High web site, the remarkable moment came during a game between Darius’s small town Illinois team and Johntel’s big city team in Wisconsin – a game that almost wasn’t played.

      Just hours before tip-off Johntel’s mother lost her five-year battle with cervical cancer.  Her death was sudden and devastating to all who knew her, and Johntel’s coach wanted to cancel the game.  But Johntel insisted that the game should be played, and so with heavy hearts his teammates prepared to honor their captain’s wishes and to play – and hopefully win – without him.

      What they weren’t prepared for was Johntel’s appearance in the gym mid-way through the first half.  As soon as he saw him, Johntel’s coach called a time out, and players and fans surrounded the grieving young man to offer love and support.  The coach asked him if he wanted to sit on the bench with the team.

      “No,” Johntel said.  “I want to play.”

      Of course his team was thrilled to have him.  But because Johntel wasn’t on the pre-game roster, putting him in the game at that point would result in a technical foul and two free throws for the opposing team.  Johntel’s coach was OK with that.  He could see that this was the teenager’s way of coping with his loss – the points didn’t matter.

      The opposing team understood the situation and told the referees to let Johntel play and to forget the technical foul.  The referees argued that a rule is a rule, and the free throws would have to be taken before the game could proceed.  For possibly the first time in basketball history, officials had to force a team to accept and take the technical free throws.

      As team captain, Darius volunteered to take the shots.  One would have expected he was looking for an opportunity to keep his team close in a hard-fought game against a big city school.  Or one could even assume he wanted a chance to add a couple of points to his personal statistics.

      In either case, one would be wrong.

      Darius took the ball from the official, looked at the basket and calmly shot the ball.  Now, basketball purists know that the free throw line is 15 feet from the basket.  Darius’s first shot only traveled about four feet.  His second shot only traveled two.  Immediately Johntel and his teammates understood what Darius was doing.  They stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship as Darius made his way back to his bench.  So did all of the big city fans.

      “I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” Darius told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the game.  “It was the right thing to do.”

      For those who are concerned about such things, Johntel’s team rode the emotion of the night to a 15-point victory.  But as the two teams met after the game for pizza and sodas, nobody on either side was too concerned with wins or losses or personal stats.

      “This is something our kids will hold for a lifetime,” Darius’s coach said.  “They may not remember our record 20 years from now, but they’ll remember what happened in that gym that night.”

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— © Joseph Walker

E-mail Joseph 

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