ABC's Stu Schutzman from New York:
"Not All Kids Are Heartless Punks" said one headline. "Out Of Tragedy, Sportsmanship Has A Shining Moment" said another. Think about some of the sports headlines in just the last few weeks; mega-millionaire baseball star cheats; girls basketball team rubs opponents face in 100-0 thrashing and consider what happened recently at a Mid Western High School basketball game--Milwaukee Madison vs DeKalb of Illinois.
Madison senior Johntell Franklin wasn't at the game. Instead, he was at the hospital spending the last few moments with his mother as she died of cancer. His coach had offered to forfeit the game, Franklin said no, go ahead and play. And then early in the 2nd quarter, to a chorus of cheers and tears, Johntell Franklin showed up. Even the other team cheered. "I wanted to go and support my team," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I'm a captain. I set an example." In fact, everyone involved in this game "set an example".
Franklin was extremely moved by the reception, "…on a hard day, that's a nice feeling to have." But, the 6 foot 2 forward told the Journal he came to play, maybe to win one for his mom. "I'm a competitor. I can't just sit there and watch."
And play he did but here's the rub. His coach never listed him on the active roster that night; never expected him to be there. That's a violation of the rules and an automatic technical foul. Amazingly, it was the opposing coach who protested the penalty. "We argued," said Dekalb coach Dave Rohlman, "but the referees said those were the rules, even if there were extenuating circumstances."
What happened next stunned everyone in the gym. Dekalb junior guard Darius McNeal volunteered to take the 2 penalty free throws. He stepped to the foul line and proceeded to roll the ball twice on the floor purposely missing both shots. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation. "I did it for the guy who lost his mom," he told the Journal."It was the right thing to do."
Madison ultimately won the game but Madison coach Aaron Womack was so moved by the gesture he sent a letter to the local DeKalb county paper: "As a principal, school, school staff and community," he wrote. "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."
The losing coach says it was a lessen in sportsmanship his kids won't forget anytime soon. Unfortunately that's a lesson that too many athletes never learn.