Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Truly the charity stripe

The 'charity stripe,' for the uninitiated, is another term for the free throw line in basketball. It is a wizened sports cliché -- a term so ancient, in fact, that I don't even know if young basketball players would recognize it.

But I couldn't help but recall the term when I read this AP story posted on

DeKalb, Illinois lies about as far west as you can get and still arguably claim to be in the Chicago area. At least, if you're driving home from Iowa along Interstate 88, when you see the signs for Annie Glidden Road and Northern Illinois University, you know that the trip is... finally... coming to an end.

DeKalb High School had a Saturday night basketball game in Milwaukee, a non-conference game against Milwaukee Madison. This was the third meeting between the schools and the teams were supposed to go out for pizza and pop afterward. (You need at least a meal after a two and a half hour bus ride -- each way.)

But the long trip got even longer than expected: The game did not start on time. In fact the game almost was canceled.

A kid on the Madison team lost his mother that afternoon. She'd had cancer, but she'd been in remission. Saturday morning, though, Carlitha Franklin began to hemorrhage. By late in the afternoon, as her son and several of his teammates worried and prayed and hoped at the hospital, the decision was made to turn off the life-support system.

The Madison coach would have canceled the game; the DeKalb coach would have understood. But Carlitha's son, Johntel, a senior captain on the team, wanted the team to play. So the game started... an hour late.

Johntel came over from the hospital before halftime to cheer his teammates on. The Madison coach called timeout. The Madison players went over to hug their captain. Fans came out of the stands to do the same. The coach asked Johntel if he'd like to sit on the bench.

But, at that point, Johntel decided he didn't want to sit. He wanted to suit up and play.

There was one problem -- truly a technicality. Johntel was (understandably) not on the roster submitted to the referees before the game. If he entered the game, a technical foul would be called on the Madison team. DeKalb would get two free throws... and, well, it was a close game. You might even have understood, I think, if Madison Coach Aaron Womack, Jr., had told the grieving young man to just take a seat and let the others carry the load tonight.

But Coach Womack didn't do that. He understood that Johntel needed to play. He told the young man to get his uniform.

The DeKalb kids knew the circumstances. When Johntel was inserted into the game, the penalty was called. DeKalb Coach Dave Rohlman and his staff argued with the refs about the call: They didn't want the penalty, they wouldn't take the shots. Play was stopped for another five minutes or so while the debate raged.

Finally, the referees insisted. You must take the shots, the zebras decreed. That's when Coach Rohlman (pictured at left) asked for volunteers. From the linked article:
[Rohlman's] senior captain raised his hand, ready to go to the line as he had many times before.

Only this time it was different.

"You realize you're going to miss them, don't you?" Rohlman said.

Darius McNeal nodded his head. He understood what had to be done.

* * * * * *

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."
Yes, it was.

There are so many negative stories from the world of sports these days. But this is a story that makes you want to cry... for all the right reasons. And it struck me that this was a particularly good story to talk about at the beginning of Lent.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i saw this story on foxnews and it made me cry. wonderful story! what a lesson for those kids!!!

smiles, bee

Shel said...

I have tears in my eyes. DeKalb is very close to me, both geographically and because I have friends at NIU that I worked with at Jewel. This is the true definition of sportsmanship.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A good story. Thanks for letting us see it.

landgirl said...

Oh, Cur, it made me cry, too. Thanks for sharing that. I have been to Dekalb And I did heave a sigh of relief that I was almost home. It gives me good hope to realize that there are so many young people who understand what is really important. I'd like to hug em all.

Cristina said...

I'm now crying. Thanks for sharing such a great story.