Hey friends – I wanted to share this story with you. It’s really good. Please read it even though it’s a bit long….
It had been a hard year for Ryan. There were a lot of choices that had been made. Choices that sometimes were for the better, and sometimes weren’t. Like all choices, there were consequences and effects. Sometimes they only affected him. Sometimes not. But there was one choice that affected a great many people. And it is forever branded in my memory.
The year actually started last May. It was that in-between time when the previous year’s basketball season had ended, and thoughts were turned toward the coming year. Ryan had played high school basketball for the same organization for the last four years, starting as an eighth grader. The first three of those years, Ryan’s dad was the coach. The fourth year Ryan played, there was a conflict amongst the coaches and the athletic board and his dad didn’t coach. There was definitely a difference that year – and not for the better. Ryan knew that, and at the end of that fourth year he decided that he would not play for any other coach than his Dad during his senior year. This was the first of many choices. The assistant-become-head coach from the old team still held his position, so Ryan and his Dad were forced to find another team to play with if they were going to play/coach together. There was an opening at a small local Christian high school for a boys varsity coach. Ryan’s Dad took the job, and Ryan was allowed to play for the school by coach’s exemption. It was quite a step down. The team they were now looking at had potentially 6 guys that could play decently, and another 7 or so who had hardly even played before. It was a far cry from the team both coach and son had come from. Ryan had another choice. Does he stay? He chose to stick it out. Playing for his Dad was more important.
The start of the year was rough. The players from this small school had some skill, it was just very undeveloped. They were uncoached and unaccustomed to playing as a team. Running plays, adjusting to new offenses and defenses, thinking ahead, having an eye for the court – much of this was new to them. In many ways it was like starting from scratch. But it was nothing that hard work and consistent practice couldn’t help. Ryan’s Dad worked them hard, taught them and coached them with much patience. Ryan helped too, coaching and encouraging and pushing the team to play harder and better. And play harder and better they did! The team improved rapidly. To the observer, it seemed almost like a movie. A new coach comes in with one good player and through hard work, knowledge of the game, and wise coaching, they turn the team around. There were struggles and rocky times to be sure – they still really only had 7 guys that could play – but the team had definitely been reborn.
As the year drew to an end, the conference playoffs arrived. Ryan’s team was seeded at #2 in the conference, and therefore played the #3 team. It was a close game and Ryan was faced with more choices. When the score got close and things grew tight, Ryan chose to take the game on his own and try to score and win by himself. The effects were quite negative. His efforts alone didn’t work. He adjusted, listened to his coach and jumped back into playing team basketball. That choice had wonderful results. They won the semi-final game in overtime, with Ryan making a layup at the buzzer to seal their 6-point lead. Everyone was ecstatic. This meant that the little Christian high school that had held little hope for anything for the last several years, was going to the conference championship game! And it was at this game that Ryan made yet another choice that I will never forget. See, as a senior, this was the last game that Ryan would ever play in high school, and for his Dad. Besides being the crowning achievement to a hard year, there was also a lot of sentiment there.
The first half was as exciting as could be. It was close, it was fast-paced, it was intense. The team went into the 3rd quarter down by 6, but not discouraged. It was still a game. However, things began to fall apart toward the end of the 3rd quarter and into the 4th. Many of the other players weren’t playing smart, even though they still played hard. As the 4th quarter began to wind down, the opposing team took a 6, then 8, and then 10 point lead. With 35 seconds left on the clock, Ryan drove down the court, went up for a shot and got fouled. Standing at the line preparing to shoot 2 free throws, down by 10, with 30 seconds left in the game, I’m not entirely sure what was going through his head. Ryan wasn’t one to give up. He would play his heart out until the last second, even if they were going to lose. He shot the first free throw and it went in. His teammate standing on the line asked him, “Are you going to miss this one?” Ryan nodded. (The strategy being, deliberately miss the free throw – which is only worth 1 point – get the rebound and try and make a regular shot – thus gaining 2 points instead of 1) Then he paused. He looked around. Then he looked at the bench and the rest of his team. “Dad!” He called out to the coach. He mouthed the words “the bench,” and said, “sub ‘em in!” Then he turned to his teammate with a new answer – “I’m making this shot.” He made the free throw and immediately called time out. As the ball was turned over to the referee, Ryan sat down on the bench and watched the freshman, the little green boys who had probably played a grand total of 3 minutes the entire season, finish out the last 30 seconds of the championship game.
His game – and his season – was over. By his choice.
This is a true story. I know because I watched it all happen last night. Ryan is my brother.