Last month I posted on a widely reported story of a girls’ high school basketball game in which the final score was 100-0. I criticized the winning team’s coach for his disregard for sportsmanship and humility. Add to that the black cloud that has been cast over the sports world in recent weeks with drug scandals, arrests, etc., and it’s easy to become jaded and negative toward the world of sports in general.
But every now and then a story emerges that completely restores your faith in the ability of sports to bring people together and bring out he best in human nature. I came across such a story today.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, Milwaukee Madison senior and captain of the school’s basketball team, Johntell Franklin, lost his mother, Carlitha, only 39 years old, to a 5 year battle with cancer. His principal and coach, Aaron Womack Jr. was with Franklin at the hospital though his team was scheduled to play a game against DeKalb (Ill.) High School that night.
DeKalb had traveled more than 2 hours to Madison for the game and waited patiently an additional 2 hours as Womack rushed from the hospital to the school to coach his team.
“We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events,” said DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We even told Coach Womack that it’d be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2½ hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, ‘Spend some time with your team and come out when you’re ready.’”
Franklin understandably, had indicated to his coaches that he would sit out that night’s game. After having a change of heart, Franklin decided he wanted to play and arrived at the gym in the second quarter. But Franklin’s name was not in the scorebook because his coach didn’t expect him to be there.
Womack chose to put Franklin in the game despite a rule that required the referees to charge the team with a technical foul for putting a player in the game who was not on the roster. Knowing the situation, Rohlman told the referees that they did not want the call.
Having no other choice but to follow the rules the referees charged Milwaukee Madison with a technical foul.
This is where the story takes an amazing turn.
“I gathered my kids and said, ‘Who wants to take these free throws?’” Rohlman said, recounting the game to the Journal Sentinel. “Darius McNeal put up his hand. I said, ‘You realize you’re going to miss, right?’ He nodded his head.”
McNeal approached the free throw line and twice rolled the ball out of bounds in a gesture of amazing compassion and understanding.
“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal told the newspaper. “It was the right thing to do.”
After the game, which Madison won, the two teams (who had already met twice previously) sat down together, as is their tradition, for pizza ”four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids,” Womack told the Journal Sentinel.
In response to the game, Womack later wrote to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle,
“As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders…I’d like to recognize Darius who stepped up to miss the shot on purpose. He could have been selfish and cared only for his own stats [I hope Coach Rohlman doesn't make him run for missing the free throws].”
If you’re a parent who has ever debated over whether or not to include your kids in athletics this is precisely why you should. There is more to be learned on a football field, a basketball court or in a hockey rink than passing a ball, shooting a lay-up or perfecting your slap shot. This story reminds us all that we are lucky to have some amazing coaches out there that are wisely guiding young athletes and teaching them valuable lessons both in and out of the sports arena.