Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things “Beyond Winning”

Saturday Story Time: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

“Beyond Winning”

Russ was just an ordinary dad. He worked a regular job, had a wife and two children. He volunteered as a basketball coach for the parks and recreation program in our town. Christian was a third grader, a year younger than his son Brian, but he played on his team. John was the same age as Brian, but because of his vision impairment had chosen not to play. John still went to the practices, hung out with the team and went to every game. Russ loved John. I do not know what it was, but they bonded in a way John has done with very few people.

It was hard for John not to play, his siblings were all on teams, we had a basketball court in our back yard. He could shoot the ball with the best of them but because of his field of vision he had difficulty catching the ball, finding the open player and keeping up with the speed of play. John was also very aware of his disability and was always wanting to fit in. He did not want to let a team down, or be given special treatment. We had tried other options, rock climbing, swimming, other individual sports but it never captured his heart like basketball.

The season went by and John was given an honorary team jersey. The next fall Russ and I ran into each other at a school event. He told me he wanted John to play on the team this year. It would now be a team of fifth graders, winning had become more important at this age, and kids can be so cruel. I said, Russ, his vision has not changed, he might get crushed out there, not just in the game but destroy him emotionally as well. This man I barely knew took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said “Kari, I have thought about this all summer, I have made up plays just for him. I talked to Brian and he talked to the other kids and they want him to play.”

I was overwhelmed. I teared up and looked at Russ and said do you have any idea what a gift you are offering? Do you know what it means to Scott and me? Most coaches might grudgingly let him play out of obligation, but they sure as hell would not seek a visually impaired kid out to be on their team. You already have plays made up for him? Why? “I just really love Johnny (Russ is the only person who ever called him Johnny and the only one John never corrected or gave a dirty look to.) and I want him to play.

This may not seem like that big of a deal. To me and my family it was extraordinary. Someone outside of our family, outside of a teacher or a good friend had gone out of his way to make an unknown dream of a fifth grade boy come true. John has struggled with anger, attachment, post traumatic stress disorder, and many disappointments over things he has been denied because of being legally blind. Russ took John under his wing, and created an environment where he could succeed. As a coach he treated him no different from the other kids, and his expectations for the team were high. John got equal playing time, and had a cheering section larger than most.

The other boys on the team were amazing. They were willing to learn how to help John play. They learned they could not throw the ball to him without bouncing it. They learned to call his name. They learned that team work was more than winning a game. They embraced John, and every one of those young boys went out of their way to make sure John got to try to make a basket. It did not happen until the final game of the season, a foul at the end of the game put John on the line. I really do not think there was a dry eye in the whole place when he sunk that shot.

Russ and John are still very close. Russ denies his extraordinary role, saying anyone would have done the same. He is wrong. Yes, Russ is just an ordinary man, but he chose to embrace a challenge, and fight for a dream that was not his, nor his own child’s. He took extraordinary measures to make it possible for a legally blind boy to play basketball with a regular team. My family is forever grateful he did.

Next week: Ordinary people doing Extraordinary things “An Advocate for the voiceless”


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Kari, I read everything you post and this is the one that tears me up! Seeing how John gravitates to the hoop in your yard, it is clear that basketball is a “safe” place for him. I’m sure that season enjoying the game in full has something to do with it. Thank you Russ!

Comment by Alissa

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