>> Thursday, February 19, 2009
I had to share this story about a high-school basketball team whose coach and players knew that they had to MISS the 2 free throws they were about to attempt. If this doesn’t make you stir a little, then you might be dead inside. Here’s how the story goes:
It was a Saturday night in February, and the Barbs [from DeKalb, Illinois] were playing a non-conference game on the road against Milwaukee Madison. It was the third meeting between the two schools, who were developing a friendly rivalry that spanned two states.
The teams planned to get together after the game and share some pizzas and soda. But the game itself almost never took place.
Hours earlier, the mother of Milwaukee Madison senior captain Johntel Franklin died at a local hospital. Carlitha Franklin had been in remission after a five-year fight with cervical cancer, but she began to hemorrhage that morning while Johntel was taking his college ACT exam.
Her son and several of his teammates were at the hospital late that afternoon when the decision was made to turn off the life-support system. Carlitha Franklin was just 39.
"She was young and they were real close," said Milwaukee coach Aaron Womack Jr., who was at the hospital. "He was very distraught and it happened so suddenly he didn't have time to grieve."
Womack was going to cancel the game, but Franklin told him he wanted the team to play. And play they did, even though the game started late and Milwaukee Madison dressed only eight players.
Early in the second quarter, Womack saw someone out of the corner of his eye. It was Franklin, who came there directly from the hospital to root his teammates on.
The Knights had possession, so Womack called a time out. His players went over and hugged their grieving teammate. Fans came out of the stands to do the same.
"We got back to playing the game and I asked if he wanted to come and sit on the bench," Womack said during a telephone interview.
"No," Franklin replied. "I want to play."
There was just one problem. Since Franklin wasn't on the pre-game roster, putting him in meant drawing a technical foul that would give DeKalb two free throws.
Though it was a tight game, Womack was willing to give up the two points. It was more important to help his senior guard and co-captain deal with his grief by playing.
Over on the other bench, though, Rohlman wasn't so willing to take them. He told the referees to forget the technical and just let Franklin play.
"I could hear them arguing for five to seven minutes, saying, `We're not taking it, we're not taking it," Womack said. "The refs told them, no, that's the rule. You have to take them."
That's when Rohlman asked for volunteers, and McNeal's hand went up.
He went alone to the free throw line, dribbled the ball a couple of times, and looked at the rim.
His first attempt went about two feet, bouncing a couple of times as it rolled toward the end line. The second barely left his hand.
It didn't take long for the Milwaukee players to figure out what was going on.
They stood and turned toward the DeKalb bench and started applauding the gesture of sportsmanship. Soon, so did everybody in the stands.
"I did it for the guy who lost his mom," McNeal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It was the right thing to do."
I don’t even remember reading who won. It really doesn’t matter.
What a great coach! What amazing young men! If I would have been there in person, I would have been on my feet applauding the away team after those 2 deliberate misses with tears streaming down my face. What a heartbreaking / heartwarming story!
(Check out the full story here.)