by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer
There is not much doubt this year has been tough for the American Falls High School boys’ basketball team including a 70-41 loss to Snake River on Friday, Feb. 7.
It is difficult to find positives when the scoreboard does not reflect the hours of hard work or the depth of the players’ determination. Then there comes a moment when the scoreboard doesn’t matter.
The Beavers traveled to Montpelier to play Bear Lake High School on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The flow of the game quickly turned against the Beavers.
“We started out strong, but by the middle of the first quarter Bear Lake poured on the points. Finally in the middle of the second quarter we decided to play again and came within eight points by halftime,” said Head Coach David Ethington.
The Beavers did not fare much better in the second half, falling behind by 34 points toward the end of the fourth quarter.
Bear Lake called a time out and that is when the game became about more than the score.
While the teams huddled an assistant coach from Bear Lake approached Ethington with a request.
“The assistant coach came over and told me they had a kid with special needs on the team they would like to substitute in,” Ethington said.
According to Ethington there was a short conversation about giving the boy the chance to score.
“I don’t think the assistant coach wanted to seem unsportsmanlike when they were up by so many points, but he finally said it would be nice,” said Ethington.
He said giving the young man a chance to score was not unsportsmanlike.
“At that point it was not about anything else, but letting this young man have a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he, his family, the fans and players from both sides would never forget,” said Ethington.
The frequency of finding an opportunity for a classmate with special needs to play in a game has been increasing. A search of www.youtube.com results in hundreds of videos including features by ESPN. Many show an inbound pass to the person who then turns around and shoots, but the Beavers decided to make this time something different.
“In the time-out I told my players to “guard’ him and play as real as possible, but to still give him every opportunity to score,” said Ethington.
As the players went back onto the court senior Ryland Lasley decided he would guard the new player. Lasley said playing as realistically as possible was an important part of what was happening that night.
“Coach told us to give him as real a game experience as possible. It was important for us to do that so he knows he scored a real basket in a real game rather than it being a set-up,” said Lasley.
While the original plan was for the boy to participate in a play during a game it quickly grew from there.
The Bears in-bounded the ball then passed it to the boy. Once he had the ball in his hands it was obvious this young man was a basketball player.
“They passed the ball to him down on the wing. He gave a fake and drove to the hoop, shooting a reverse lay-up, which missed,” said Ethington.
The Beavers got the rebound and quickly ran to the opposite side of the court, shooting a three-point shot that missed and Bear Lake was able to get the rebound. Returning to the other end of the court the pass again went to the boy.
“He attempted to score again with a 15 foot jumper that looked good, but missed,” said Ethington.
The Beavers missed their next shot and Bear Lake again returned the ball to the boy who attempted a 10 foot jump shot, missing again.
Jerrik Ostler got the rebound and began heading up-court when Ethington gave the instruction to give him one more chance.
“I started yelling ‘let him have it, let him have it.’ He was already in pursuit of Jerrik and was able to steal the ball from behind. With eight seconds on the clock the boy dribbled coast-to-coast. With the last two second running off the clock he scored,” said Ethington.
According to Ethington the crowd went wild.
“It was perhaps the loudest I have ever heard a crowd,” said Ethington.
In the end the young man shot four times scoring two points and marking one steal on the stat sheet.
Losing a conference game by 36 points is a difficult pill to swallow, but being a part of something special made the loss easier to accept.
“I would love to win games and we would have been willing to help no matter what the score or our record was, but this made us realize how many people were out there that we could help give something amazing to,” said Lasley.
For Ethington the night was about teaching larger lessons through sports.
“I try to teach my players life lessons. I talk to them often about the future. To have the opportunity to be a part of this is something I am truly grateful for,” said Ethington.
The story did not immediately reach school officials. Kyle Crawford is a fifth grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary in Pocatello and basketball referee. Crawford sent an email complimenting those who participated.
“What an amazing display of character and class from everyone involved, something nobody in that gym will forget for a long time,” wrote Crawford.
American Falls High School vice principal and athletic director Nathan Whittle did not know about the events in Bear Lake until he read Crawford’s email. He was impressed.
“Our boys have struggled. I was impressed they were still open to being part of something bigger than just a game. It also speaks volumes to how these boys were raised and how they continue to conduct themselves,” said Whittle.
“We were proud to be a part of this for him,” said Lasley.
The team will be on the road tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 12, against Marsh Valley before returning home on Friday, Feb. 14, to once again take on Bear Lake.