Category: Human Interest- Olympics
The Champaign Flyers:
Chapter 7: Late Season
Alice: The most important event on our schedule during the last part of the season was the District Tournament. All of the practices and prior games had been a preparation for this tournament. After the District Tournament, both teams had one more scheduled game before the grand finale of the season--a tournament in Paducah, Kentucky.
Brendan: With the District Tournament approaching, the intensity at practices was at a fever pitch. Districts were what my team looked forward to all year long. Each team that won its division in the District Tournament was qualified to compete in the Illinois State Special Olympics Basketball Championships. We would be traveling to Bloomington for Districts so the players knew what to expect. Their confidence was high because of our improved play. The importance of confidence cannot be overestimated. Confidence can help a team overcome many obstacles and perform better than a more talented team. I was as confident as my players, and I let them know it.
I tried to keep practices upbeat and intense, while trying to keep the players focused on our opponent, Lincoln. I did not know anything about Lincoln, but the players remembered. They had lost to Lincoln in a close game the previous year. Lincoln supposedly had a new player who was a good shooter and inside player, so the players were concerned, but still confident. Scott and Arms, who continued to guard each other in scrimmages, were always after each other. I was happy with their physical play but had to constantly remind them to save some of the energy for the opponent. If Lincoln had a new big guy, our big guys had to be ready to bump-and-grind him and play tough inside if we were to have a chance of winning.
Shoes was ferocious on the offensive boards, and Greg was hitting the defensive boards hard. Shoes and Greg were our primary rebounders, especially Greg on the defensive boards. Marvin would often start running for a fastbreak early, leaving Greg as the lone big man to haul in an opponent's miss. Richard was Richard, doing what he always did--making great passes, stealing the ball, shooting great shots, and making sure that everybody was included in the action. I thought our "big guns" were ready to play.
I ran the guys hard before districts. We would have to play at least two games in one day, so it was important for us to be in tip-top shape. Too many Big Macs had some of the players carrying around a bit of a belly, so I was going to use as much of our practice time running them as possible. That is one of the reasons why I chose to go with a running game for this team. I knew that most of them followed the NBA and college basketball closely, and I knew how very knowledgeable they were about the details of a fast break. My guys had played together for a long time and knew each other's moves. This knowledge and experience is important for running an effective fast break. I would often use references to the great running team of the 1980's, the Lakers (even though I am a Celtics fan), to illustrate my points.
Making my team enthusiastic about the running game took care of a couple of other problems we had as a team: desire and physical conditioning. Enthusiastically trying to imitate a team like the Lakers gave them the desire to do the best they could. They ran hard in practices and, because of our fast breaking style of play, they increased their physical conditioning without constantly thinking of the pain of running. When I tried to have them run sprints or laps, they would become tired after the first ten feet. If we were practicing our fast breaks, they were doing a lot of running without thinking of it as a boring running drill.
Regretfully, what all of this running did not do was promote great defensive play. Although I was persistent about having them run, I did not spend much time talking about defense. The team was used to playing a zone defense, and though it is difficult to play a great zone defense, it is easier to hide defensive weaknesses playing a zone than it is playing a man-to-man defense. However, I worked them hard during practices. When someone was not running hard, I encouraged them to keep running. When there was a breakdown and play became sloppy, I would call a timeout to give them a breather, a chance to get a drink of water, and to refocus their concentration. Some of the players' attention spans were short, so I found that frequent timeouts were beneficial for keeping concentration at a high level. This coaching strategy was effective, and we got the most out of our practice time. We were ready for whatever Lincoln had to offer. We were confident that we would be going to State for the first time in several years.
District Tournament--February 6, 1988
Jeff: On Saturday morning we all met at Douglass Center for a van ride to Bloomington. After loading everybody, we were soon off. The hour-long ride went quickly as everybody talked about the upcoming games. Upon arriving in Bloomington, we soon found the gym.
This gym (not the elementary school in which we played earlier in the season) was fairly big with many seats for spectators. Because the gym had extra baskets on the side of the main court, two games could be played simultaneously by dividing the main court into two smaller courts that run the width of the regular court. Each court had a separate buzzer and game clock, but because the courts are so close together, it was sometimes hard to know which of the two buzzers was sounding.
As soon as we entered the gym, Ernie was off shaking hands with the officials and everybody else. We found a section of the bleachers to call our own, Alice went to make sure our registration was correct, and Brendan and I talked to the officials about any rule changes for this tournament. As with all Special Olympic gatherings, the day's events began with the opening parade of athletes and coaches, an invocation, the entrance of the Olympic torch, and finally the reciting of the Special Olympics pledge: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
My team had the first game of the day. Our opponent was the Bloomington team which we had beaten earlier in the season. We started out strong and by the end of the first half, I thought that we would win again. However, by the middle of the second half, I realized that their bench was much stronger than ours. Obviously, some of these players had not shown up during our game with Bloomington earlier in the season. As long as I had my starting five in the game (Zach, Ernie, DB, Charles, and Ed), we played even with them. However, as soon as I took one of them out, we started to slip behind. Ethically, I do not believe in leaving the starting five in for an entire half. Physically, I do not believe my starting five could have played the entire half without a rest anyway. DB became frustrated on the court and frustrated when I took him out of the game. Ernie started to complain about the referees and began to launch half-court shots. The rest of the team knew that we were going to lose this game, but kept trying hard until the end of the game. With a minute left in the game and victory impossible, I made sure that Vonna, Becky, Randy, and Brad had an opportunity to handle the ball as much as possible.
Brendan: During the Blue team's first game, my team sat up in the stands to watch and cheer. I could tell that my guys were restless and itching to play, so we used up some of our extra energy cheering for our other Champaign team. When their game was over, my team was ready for action. While they warmed up, I tried to get a quick scouting report on Lincoln. I could see that they had a heck of a lot of height but did not appear to have a lot of quickness, except for their one new player. That gave me even more confidence since we had been working on the running game so much. We would just run past them instead of trying to go over them.
We were playing by Illinois State High School Basketball rules, so coaches were not allowed to leave their seats. This was something new and entirely different to me, since I virtually never sit down during a game when I am coaching. It was a tough adjustment since I am a very physical and emotional coach. I am always giving the players instructions, trying to keep them focused, and using a lot of hand signals and body English in case they cannot hear me through the echoes and noise in the gym.
Jeff: As soon as I heard about the sit-down rule, I started to laugh. I knew that Brendan could not sit down for an entire game, especially if it was a close game. As I have mentioned before, Brendan gives 110 percent effort to everything he does. I knew that he would look like a caged lion if he could not prowl up and down the sidelines. In fact, watching Brendan's expressions and antics during a game was often more entertaining than the game itself.
The ironic thing is that I was the one who was eventually warned for leaving my seat when I jumped up for joy after a good play. Compared to Brendan, I am usually a quiet, reserved coach during a game. That one warning showed Brendan and me that the referees were serious about enforcing the rule.
Brendan: Marvin and their new guy were ready to jump center, and soon the game was underway. We played a very good offensive first half, but our defense was lacking. We played a "box and one" defense, where the "box" consists of four players playing a zone defense and the "one" player chasing a selected player. The player we were chasing was their new guy. He appeared to be their only threat. I started with Scott being the "one", but this new guy was tough. He was a sharp shooter who was quick and big. When he missed, he always followed his shot and went in to rebound his miss. Scott picked up a couple of fouls, which was understandable considering the quality of the opposing player's talent. I switched Marvin over to him and Marvin played well but was concentrating on his offense.
Richard was busy giving the opposing point guard a lesson in basketball. Richard would limp a little going back on defense while their point guard brought the ball up the court. If their guard gave Richard a chance, Richard would then unexpectedly dart in and steal the ball. On offense, Richard brought the ball upcourt with his right hand all the way. Their point guard, who was about 17 years old and very quick, would see 46 year old Richard dribbling with his right hand and try for the steal. Richard saw the steal attempt coming all the way and would calmly demonstrate a behind-the-back dribble and leave the opposing guard grasping at air.
There were problems, though. It became painfully obvious that Lincoln's coach had one thing in mind. Feed the ball to their star, the new guy. He was hot and we were virtually helpless against him. I then created a "triangle and two" defense to have two guys chasing their big gun all over the court. Even this did not work. He was scoring all but a handful of their points, but we were hanging tough. In fact, we had a two-point lead nearing the end of the first half.
The other team had the ball with about 45 seconds to go in the first half. They shot the ball, missed, rebounded, and made a basket with about 35 seconds left. Rodney inbounded the ball to Richard, who then started to dribble the ball upcourt. I yelled out, "Richard! Thirty seconds left. Plenty of time." Richard then did one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen in basketball. He was still about six or seven feet shy of half court when he dribbled once, jumped in the air and launch a two-handed underhand "scoop" shot high through the air. It seemed to hang up there forever, right up near the lights. When it came down, it caught nothing but the bottom of the net . . . SWISH! I could not believe it! I literally fell out of my chair laughing, and the crowd was going wild. There were thirty seconds left in the half, much too much time to be taking a half-ending shot. The referee, who had been rather inconsistent with foul calls to this point, came over and warned me to get back into my chair or he would slap me with a technical foul. What? A technical foul for laughing over a wild, ill-advised shot?
The other team grabbed the ball and tried to score, but could not. We went into halftime with a 4-point point lead, and I was still laughing about Richard's wild shot. When the team came over to the sideline, I asked Richard, "Why did you shoot so soon? There were thirty seconds left!" To which Richard responded quietly, "Oh, sorry, I thought you said THREE seconds left." Oh well, it went in, and if it went in it was a good shot, right? I asked Richard one more thing: "What the heck was that shot, anyway?" "Oh, I used to practice that one all the time." I didn't doubt him at all.
During halftime I had to explain to the referee that falling out of my chair was entirely accidental. I then gave my team instructions to put the clamps on their big scorer and to keep running. Everybody got a drink of water and stretched out again. The second half was ready to begin.
The second half was really a carbon copy of the first half. Each team had small bursts of points but never pulled out of reach of the other team. We had the biggest lead of the game at eight early in the second half, but Lincoln came right back thanks to a few buckets by their big guy. No one else on Lincoln was really scoring except for this one player. I thought that it would be possible to shut down Lincoln's scoring by surrounding their one star, but he was quick, physical, and could shoot--a tough match for anyone.
Here is where coaching philosophies can differ, even in Special Olympics. To me, Special Olympics team sports are just that, team sports. Everybody on the team should get to play and contribute, not only with minutes on the basketball court, but by touching the ball or shooting it. I have seen coaches put some of their less skilled players in games for two minutes only to run up and down the court without ever touching the ball. Even though the coach has fulfilled the requirement of playing all players, this philosophy is wrong. Sure, you want to win. At the level of competition in which my team plays, winning is very important to the athletes, and we play to win. But winning is not THE most important thing. Sportsmanship is by far the most important and most rewarding thing about Special Olympics. Win or lose, after a game we shake all of the opposing team's hands and say "good game." One rule on my team is that if you do not shake hands, you get an earful from me and do not get to start the next game. Everybody on the court is trying his or her best and everybody would like to win. But if you cannot be a good sport, then you do not play until you can be one.
This one player on Lincoln was scoring virtually all of their points. There were players on Lincoln who did not even know what was going on because he was dominating the action at both ends of the court. He played every minute of the game. That was not right. I am not saying that I am the perfect coach, but I have seen the excitement and joy it brings to someone to feel that they are part of the team. When players who usually do not contribute a lot finally do score a basket, it gives them a thrill not often felt. I love seeing that, and I promote team play and participation by all.
Lincoln's coach was not the first to play one player all of the time and have him shoot all of the time. I am just using this case as an example. No coach is perfect, myself included. I simply want to point out that the spirit of Special Olympics is the most important thing. We were the better TEAM, but it meant nothing. The game was close because they had one great player. I understand Lincoln's coach going to his team's strength (especially during the District Tournament), but they were not really a team. They were a one-man gang. I wondered if their less skilled players were being ignored only during this tournament, or had they been ignored during their entire season.
Jeff: We feel free to point out others' mistakes only because we have committed the same or other equally serious mistakes ourselves (which we hope have been explicitly and/or implicitly mentioned throughout this book). As we stated in the beginning of this book, our intent is not to put ourselves up on coaching pedestals, but rather to remind new and old coaches of team sports that the short-term goal of winning games may interfere with Special Olympics promise to help each individual achieve his or her maximum potential.
Throughout our season, the high quality of sportsmanship and athletic skill displayed by our opponents must be credited to their coaches. Because of the excitement of the games and the strong desire to win, we more often remember the shortcomings of the opposing coaches rather than their obvious dedication and care.
Brendan: The game continued to be nip-and-tuck throughout the second half. The foul calls were rather lop-sided, I thought. I rarely complained about officiating, and usually it was just one or two bad calls during a game. However, this game was different. The fouls were called 4-to-1 in favor of Lincoln. We had several players in foul trouble and their big guy was making all of his free throws. I honestly thought that there were some incorrect calls, and I voiced my opinion from my seat on the bench.
With about a minute-and-a-half to go and the score tied, their big guy stole the ball and took off to the other end. Scott was in hot pursuit about two steps behind. Their big guy jumped up for a layup and Scott fouled him from behind, knocking the Lincoln player to the ground. The referee paused for a moment and called an intentional foul, which counts as a technical foul (i.e., two foul shots and then possession of the ball out-of-bounds for the fouled team). This was the killing blow. Scott was going for the ball as he always does in practices. In fact, he blocked part of the ball before fouling Lincoln's player. He certainly was not trying to hurt their player and everybody knew it. But the referee called it as an intentional foul, and I was enraged. I did not get up. I just voiced my opinion loudly and fumed while Lincoln's star calmly sunk both free throws and then took the ball out-of-bounds with just over a minute remaining in the game. Lincoln inbounded the ball, gave it to their star, and he scored again. What had been a tie game had turned into a 4-point deficit with less than a minute remaining.
That call seemed to take the wind out of us, and we ended up losing by only two points. I pleaded my case to the referees after the game but they would not listen. It was by far the most frustrating loss of the season. We played better than they did. We played as a team. It is the only time in two years of coaching that I truly believed that the referees may have taken a game away from us.
Despite the close loss and the obvious disappointment on my players' faces, I remained upbeat and applauded my players' efforts. I told all of them how proud I was of how they maintained their composure in a close game and played as hard as they could. In this case, a loss meant progress. I could see it. The players knew it, and everyone felt it. We were a team. All of the selfish attitudes were gone. We felt disappointed as a TEAM. We patted each other on the back and knew we had given it our all. But there was business yet to be determined. This was a double-elimination tournament and Lincoln was the only other team in our division. We would get another chance against Lincoln. Between games I spoke with each player about how proud I was of them for trying so hard and giving it their all and how we still had a chance. "You know we're a better team than they are. Forget the refs. Forget their big guy. We're a better team and you know it." "That's right," Greg said. "We'll get'em this time," Mike Kearney said. "This one's ours," piped in Shoes Cain. Steve Jacobs nodded in agreement. It was a challenge now. We lost when we knew we should have won. We knew we had the better team. Could we prove it?
Not much else had to be said between games. I just told the guys to stay focused on what they had to do to win, get a drink, grab some lunch, and relax. When the second game rolled around, I knew we were ready.
We came out strong, taking an early six-point lead. Arms was getting fouled on the inside. Greg was hauling in all of the boards and Richard was playing even better in this game than in the first game. He was shooting the ball better and our team was really rolling. Our strong bench allowed us to bring in talents such as the sharp-shooting Mike Kearney and the physical Keith Schweighart. We kept coming at them. Their big guy was not quite as hot as he had been during the first game, but he was still carrying the load. The other team's point guard was continually frustrated by Richard's savvy. My only worry was that Rodney had gotten into early foul trouble and if he fouled out I would lose another coach on the court. Rodney is a vocal leader on the court; continually reminding players of their defensive assignments while pushing that running game up the court at every opportunity. Losing him would mean losing a backup to Richard.
The first half ended with us leading by eight points. It was an impressive showing, especially after the frustrating loss in our first game. I was so proud of my players for using that loss as incentive to play even harder in the second game rather than getting down on themselves. Instructions during halftime were easy. "Keep it up. Keep running. Run, run, run. You're doing great." Normally the team shows their emotions. When they are winning, you know it. Everybody is loose and happy. But this halftime was different. Everybody was serious. That first game hurt too much. They wanted to keep playing hard until the end. I thought we were in great shape going into the second half.
We immediately picked up where we had left off--keeping pressure on them as they passed half court and double-teaming their big guy. Whenever they missed a basket, Richard or Rodney would push the ball upcourt and dish it off to Marvin or Greg or shoot it themselves. Everybody was contributing, and it looked like we would force a tie-breaking game to decide who would go to the State Tournament.
At the end of the third quarter we had increased our lead to 12 points and a basket early in the fourth quarter increased our lead to 14. Since quarters are only six minutes long in Special Olympics basketball, a 14-point lead with slightly less than six minutes remaining seemed insurmountable.
Then, Richard came up limping. I rested him in parts throughout both games, but despite being in excellent shape, at 46, maybe I should have rested him more. He was complaining about his right leg and could not run well. Richard is our floor leader. He had frustrated their point guard all day long. But with him out of the lineup, their guards went wild. They stole the ball from our guards in four successive trips down the floor and cut the lead to six within two minutes. There was a little more than three minutes left. "Richard, is there any way?" With any other player, I would have given up, knowing he is out for the game. But Richard was always honest with me and always told me exactly how he felt. "Nope, no way." "Well, keep it warm and try to stretch a little, Richard." "OK," he said.
Now, during the timeout, aside from checking with Richard, I had to figure out how to prevent turnovers. They were killing us. "Move the ball more. Make quick passes. I want Marvin to move up and help handle the ball a little." Everybody knew what to do. The game started again, and things were still bad. They stole the ball two more times and scored on layups by their big guy. Our lead was cut to only one basket. Barely two minutes remained. Still mad about the other team's one star player, I called another timeout. "Richard, if there is any way for you to get out there, even if you can't run, could you try it? Just dribble the ball up the court slowly and make a good pass. Don't worry about playing defense. Just handle the ball." "I'll give it a go," he said.
Richard limped back on the court. We had a two point lead with a little more than two minutes left. Richard took the inbounds pass and slowly walked the ball up the court. Because Special Olympics does not allow the defensive team to pressure the ball-handler until the ball reaches half court, he could at least make it that far with no problem. Lincoln's coach was smart, though. As soon as Richard passed half court, two opposing players surrounded him, making it difficult to even pass the ball. When Richard passed, our guys did not move to the ball and a Lincoln player stole it. The game was now out of control. They stole the ball several more times and before I knew it the game was over. I was out of timeouts and we had lost by eight. We had been up by 14 points early in the fourth quarter before Richard's muscle pull. It was now obvious how important he was to our team's success. After the game, I realized that asking Richard to continue to play in this game was a mistake. Hindsight is 20/20. In retrospect, I would have handled the situation differently.
Despite two horribly disappointing losses, our guys congratulated Lincoln on their play. "Go get'em at State," Rodney said to one of their players. "Good game," Greg said to another. I was very proud of my team. They had matured so much today in spite of two heartbreaking losses. They knew that on another day they could have won both of those games. The satisfaction of that knowledge made these two losses easier to swallow. The progress that my team had made emotionally far outweighed the disappointing 3-5 won-loss record. We left Bloomington feeling good about our team. We looked forward to playing Lincoln again next year and we especially looked forward to the upcoming tournament in Paducah, Kentucky.
Jeff: The day's events had been frustrating for everybody associated with the Flyers. The close games that both teams had participated in that day had left the players, coaches, and families emotionally and physically exhausted. I knew that both teams had tried their best and that both teams would eventually be rewarded for their dedication and effort. During the hour-long ride home, we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the snow-covered Illinois farm belt.
Volunteer of the Month--February 10, 1988
Alice: The Champaign Park District gives special recognition to its volunteers through a "Volunteer of the Month" program. As its name implies, every month a Park District volunteer is selected as "Volunteer of the Month". Champaign Park District staff nominate volunteers who stick out as being valuable additions to their programs. The Volunteer Coordinator then evaluates these nominations and selects one volunteer each month to receive the honor. At the monthly Champaign Park District Board meeting, this volunteer is presented with a plaque during a short ceremony.
Jeff had received this award the previous year. During the course of that year, Jeff had coached Special Olympics basketball, track and field, bowling, and softball. You cannot ask for more commitment than that. He got to know the athletes better than I did and they really developed close ties with him too. Jeff's contributions to the Special Olympics programs were so valuable that I was tempted to make him a permanent paid staff member. If a position had been available, I would have offered it to him. His commitment and dedication certainly paralled that of a paid professional.
I nominated Brendan for the "Volunteer of the Month" award during this year's basketball season. Brendan put such time and effort into his basketball coaching that the effects were truly amazing. The players on his team respected his leadership and looked up to him as both a coach and a role model. Like I said before, Brendan is a natural leader and teacher. The growth and changes which occured on his team during the season attest to his abilities, as well as the big show of supporters who came to congratulate Brendan as he was presented his plaque on a cold, snowy night. As a side note, Mike Kearney was presented with a "Volunteer of the Month" award that Spring for his volunteer work in the CDD Recreation Center and with Camp Sunshine.
Brendan: What I remember the most about being named "Volunteer of the Month" was the fact that so many people--coaches, athletes, and parents--cared enough to come to the short ceremony which followed an otherwise boring business meeting just to see me receive the award. If they did not know how much it meant to me then, I can only hope that they know now. I will never forget that night and I thank them sincerely for caring so much.
Flyers Blue vs. Danville--February 15, 1988
Jeff: Now that Districts were over, each team had one more game to play before our big trip to the tournament in Paducah, KY. If our first Bloomington game was the turning point for this team, then the game we played at Danville was the peak of our season. This game was special not so much because we won, but rather because the game was so much fun. The game was on a Tuesday night so we met at regular practice time then loaded into a van. I remember that the atmosphere in the van was especially jovial. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood, and the usual good-humored teasing was flying. "Coach, I think we should get some new uniforms." "Yeah, well I think you should get a new pair of socks, I can smell those things all the way up here!" Such replies were always acknowledged by a round of laughter from the entire team.
In return for my teasing, the players had their own favorite moments in which to tease the coaching staff. For example, as we loaded into the vans, Jaime and Joanne always heard, "Oh, no! She doesn't know how to drive. We will never make it to the game on time!" Similarly, Alice received no mercy if she had any difficulty finding the gym where we were to play. "Are we lost?" "Where are we going to play?" "Are we late?" "We were at this same intersection five minutes ago." However, as the instigator of the teasing, the blunt of the razzing was directed at me. I continually heard:
"Be careful so that you don't trip again."
"I saw you staring at that girl!"
"How much are you going to eat?"
"I saw you shoot that air ball!"
After driving around Danville in the dark for awhile, we finally found the gym. The game was to be played in a junior high gym that was also an auditorium, and had no room for an out-of-bounds. In fact, the courts were so small that the top of the keys and the half court line were only a few feet apart.
The two teams were equally matched. Danville had one especially skilled player who traded baskets with DB all night. Whereas DB again scored all of his points from stealing dribbles and making coast-to-coast layups, the other team's ace scorer made incredible long-distance shots from all over the court. I told Ernie to play that guy man-to-man. As in the Bloomington game, this meant that my most agile player, Ernie, and my tallest player, DB, were playing at the top of the key on defense. Once again, the defensive duo of Charles and Eddie Cole were up for the challenge of defending our basket.
Even though the score was close throughout the game and we eventually won, some of the season's most memorable moments occurred during the third quarter of this game. Again the generosity of Sir Charles came through. On the first play of the third quarter, after having switched sides during half-time, an opponent's shot bounced off the backboard and fell into Charles' arms. And of course Charles shot it right back up. Maybe because he was cold from the half-time break, the shot luckily did not go in. With his big laugh, Eddie Cole pointed out the mistake. "Huh, Charles, huh, you shot at the wrong basket, boy, huh, huh!"
Well, I was always taught that what goes around, comes around. It sure did for Eddie Cole. A few more minutes of the third quarter passed by before Eddie Cole decided to demonstrate his generosity! As with Charles, Eddie Cole rebounded an opponent's shot and immediately shot it up at their basket. I do not remember if the shot went in or not, but I do remember Eddie Cole's reaction. When he heard the crowd's reaction and realized what he had done, he started laughing that big Santa Claus laugh of his, "Huh, huh, huh. I shot at the wrong basket! Huh, huh, huh. See that Charles, I shot at the wrong basket. Huh, huh, huh!" Meanwhile, he had made his way to half court, when he finally had to sit down because he was laughing so hard. I was laughing too hard to say anything.
After getting a normal game started again, Eddie Cole decided to make up for his mistake. As a side note, I honestly think that he deserves to be called Sir Edward because of all the outstanding personality characteristics that he shares with Sir Charles. However, if you are ever lucky enough to meet him, I think that you would agree that calling him Eddie Cole (pronounced quickly as if it were one word, EdiCol) fits him the best. Anyway, getting back to the game, Eddie Cole decided that he would take it upon himself to lead the team to victory.
I had taken Ernie out of the line up because he had already accumulated four of the five fouls allowed in a game. So after a Danville score, Eddie Cole literally took the inbounds pass out of Zachery's hands, and headed up the court. By the time he reached halfcourt, DB had positioned himself in his usual spot at the top of the key, arms outstretched, and asking for the ball. Eddie Cole then made basketball history. As he waved his left hand and dribbled with his right hand, he confidently said, "Watch out Dick, I'm comin' through!"
Everybody on the Danville team and on my team was smart enough to get out of the way as this 200+ pound freight train came down the center of the lane at full speed! When he reached the basket, Eddie Cole gracefully slowed down and gently tossed up a two handed layup like only he can do. As the ball swished through the hoop, Eddie Cole started running down the court with his arm upraised, fully pardoned for his earlier mistake of shooting at the wrong basket.
The great thing about Special Olympics basketball is that just when you think that you have seen it all, something else unbelievable happens. As described earlier, Brad had launched and made an incredible 3-point bomb in a previous game. This did not surprise me, however, because I had seen his uncanny shooting ability during practice. However, besides that shot, Brad's season had been rather uneventful. On this rather unique night, though, Brad's season came to life.
By this point in the season, I was still working on the fundamentals during practices, so I had never even mentioned advanced strategies such as "taking a charge" to my team. To "take a charge" means to set oneself firmly, thus establishing your position, and hope that a charging offensive player knocks you down. Such advanced techniques are usually reserved for stopping an opponent from scoring an easy lay-up near the basket. Whether it was intentional or not, Brad took his first charge on this night.
He was running down the court to play defense when I noticed that a Danville guard was quickly bringing the ball up the court and was headed in Brad's direction. I screamed to Brad, "Turn around!", as I pointed vigorously at the oncoming opponent. Well, Brad did turn around, set himself, and two heartbeats later was plowed over by the Danville guard. As I watched him fall down hard, my first thought was, "Oh my God, he is going to be hurt."
Alice: As mentioned previously, given Brad's history of aggressive outbursts, I was very concerned when Brad was knocked down. I worried that the physical contact or pain incurred during the blow might upset Brad. He had not been involved in any such contact up to this point in the season and I was unsure about his possible reaction. As I glanced at Brad's mother in the stands, she appeared concerned also.
Jeff: You cannot begin to appreciate my relief when rather than cringing in pain, Brad got up smiling. As soon as I got to him I quickly asked, "Brad, are you OK?" With a gleam in his eyes, Brad responded with his usual, "Yes!" as he clapped his hands in delight! As I went back to the bench in bewilderment, I slowly started to understand his rather peculiar reaction. This incident had been the first time that Brad had been an integral part of a game. In past games he had shot and had properly played his defensive position, but this was the first real game "contact" in which he had been involved. From that time on, I could not help but notice Brad's expression whenever he was in a game. His expression most reminded me of the thrill you see in young people's eyes after an exciting roller coaster ride.
As the last few minutes of this jovial game approached, everybody was brought back to a sobering reality. An athlete on the other team had an epileptic seizure while sitting on the bench. This athlete was wearing a protective helmet, so obviously he was prone to such seizures. This was the first time that I had seen a real seizure. It affected my emotions more deeply than I would have predicted.
After calming myself, I thought about my team. As I started to tell everybody to stay calm, I noticed that my team members were already sitting on our bench calmly and respectfully. I realized that most of them had either experienced a seizure themselves or had seen one before. As the seizure ended and the athlete was helped up, everybody clapped. It occurred to me at that moment that I owed my team members a great deal of respect because they had seen and experienced many unpleasant things in life which most of us cannot even imagine.
Flyers Orange vs. Piatt--February 17, 1988
Brendan: In other parts of the book, we describe how Special Olympics basketball is a team sport. It is no fun to get beaten by 30 points and the other team never substitutes to get their star player out of the game. What I remember most about the Piatt County game was how much fun it was for everyone involved, though the teams were not evenly matched.
The coaches dictated the tempo of the game, and it helped that I knew the two coaches from Piatt County--Jim Mayer and Ron Malik. Jim was a friend from high school and Alice had introduced me to Ron and his wife, Pat. Piatt County had beaten Jeff's team easily during the Blue team's first game of the year, but it was obvious early in our game that my team was higher functioning than theirs. After going out to an early lead, I made substitutions to get everyone into the game.
Some of our lesser skilled players played the majority of the game, and the game turned out to be very close, as we held on for a six point win. Throughout the game, Jim Mayer and I tried to keep the game close and competitive through communicating with each other on match-ups and substitutions. Everyone competed, had fun, and came away smiling and shaking each other's hands. Jim, Ron, and I thanked each other for working together to create a really positive experience for every single player on both teams. It was one of the more positive experiences I was associated with during that season.
Jeff: The many games and activites which Alice had organized throughout the early, middle, and late parts of the season prepared us for the fun conclusion to our season described in the next chapter.
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