The outcome of the game had been decided well before the final minutes ticked off the clock during St. Paul’s junior high boys basketball game against Magazine.
Saints coach Mike Foster has enjoyed success at all levels during his 35 years of coaching in the public school ranks. There’s been some good nights, some great nights and, unfortunately for him and his Junior Saints, rough nights like this one, where the Junior Saints were outmatched by the Junior Rattlers from buzzer to buzzer.
Foster emptied his bench, affording one of his players, whom Foster said is “crazy about basketball” but doesn’t get to play much if any much less ever score a basket, the opportunity in the final minutes to play the game he so dearly loves.
“(Foster) asked me if we could allow him to shoot one lay-up,” Magazine coach Zack Griffin said. “We called a time-out and told them that we were going to give him a chance. What happened next was all our kids’ actions and not anything to do with coaching.”
It was a night when most coaches in Foster’s shoes would find little to smile about, but as the young man made his way onto the court and began to play, Foster stopped and soaked in the sounds coming from the Magazine bench and fans section. For a few seconds, he was lost in the moment of what was occurring.
As the young man began to play, the Magazine bench, as well as the senior high boys sitting in the stands awaiting their game, came alive, cheering, clapping and encouraging him. This moment, they realized, was much bigger than the game and bigger than the win they had already secured.
The young man missed his first shot, which went out of bounds, but he was immediately given the ball back by one of the Junior Rattlers to try again. This time, he didn’t miss.
“The place went nuts,” Griffin recalled. “Our kids continued to give him an opportunity well after we only talked about the one shot. I believe the student ended up with six points and a buzzer-beating shot at the end of the game. It was a special night, to say the least.”
Foster praised the Junior Rattlers and their coach for the tremendous act of kindness that was shown to one of his players.
“The highlight of the night was the Magazine senior boys cheering and clapping for him to score. It was awesome,” Foster said.
Foster said it will be a night his young player will remember forever.
Being kind is one of the five expectations of Magazine students. Being respectful, being healthy, being motivated and having integrity are the others.
“As for the kindness our kids showed to their player, we couldn't be more proud,” Griffin said.
And the expectations aren’t just for students.
With the game getting out of hand early in favor of Magazine, Griffin pulled his starters after the first quarter.
“Magazine is in the hands of a really good young coach,” Foster said. “They could beat us 100 in junior boys, and he just played starters one quarter.”
Griffin is in his first season as head coach of the Magazine junior high and senior high boys basketball teams. Along with teaching the fundamentals of the game, Griffin sees the big picture and takes every opportunity to also teach important life lessons.
“These life lessons are what high school sports are all about. Very few students in the world get to go on to play the sport they love in college or professional settings,” Griffin said.
“So to me, helping students learn how to handle adversity and things outside of their control and helping them learn how to treat others is what will help them later in their lives. These lessons are vital to kids because it helps them to become good-quality members of a community and society.”
Opportunities like the one against St. Paul, where Griffin had the chance to substitute early and often, allow the coach to emphasize those life skills by example.
“We obviously preach to our basketball program how important it is to be competitive and to try to go out and do our best to have as much team success as possible,” Griffin said.
“On nights when team success seems to come easier, it is important to allow other kids who typically do not play a lot to go out there and have success of their own. All our kids come to practice and deserve an opportunity to show our community what they have been working so hard for.”