Sportsmanship trumps individual performance

Nearly ten months ago, Western Oregon softball player Sara Tucholsky had three hits in 34 at-bats for a .088 batting average. Nearing the end of the season in a conference doubleheader where her team and their opponent sit atop the conference standings, Tucholsky hit the ball over the outfield fence for the first and only time of her career. In her excitement, she missed tagging first base. After she stopped to return and tag the base, her knee gave out and she tore her ACL.

An NCAA rule states that even if a player hits a home run and is unable to touch all of the bases, the player can be substituted out, but the player subbed in can only occupy the last legally touched base. If the first base coach were to touch Sara to help her around the bases, she would be called out.

ncaa_wallace_sara_400Enter two Central Washington players, Liz Wallace and Mallory Holtman. At this point, Holtman owns almost all of the offensive records at Central Washington. Holtman and Wallace, understanding Tucholky’s achievement and putting the intensity of the game aside, carried Tucholsky around the bases allowing her to touch every base and be awarded the home run she so rightfully deserved.

“Honestly, it’s one of those things that I hope anyone would do it for me,” Holtman said.

Fast forward to just about a month ago.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, Milwaukee (Wis.) Madison High School was scheduled to play a non-conference game against DeKalb (Ill.) High school. Earlier that day, 18-year-old Madison senior Johntell Franklin lost his mother to cancer after battling the disease for five years. She was 39.

Since it was apparent Franklin would not play in the game, Madison coach Aaron Womack Jr only listed eight players in their official scorebook, Franklin’s name was omitted from the list, and the game stared two hours behind schedule.

Much to the surprise of Womack and everyone in attendance at the game, Franklin showed up during the second quarter.

“A few seconds after I spotted Johntell, all the people in the stands did, too. They surrounded him. The players, his friends in the stands, the cheerleaders,” Womack said.

Womack couldn’t believe it when Franklin said he was there to play, not to watch his teammates.

“I’m a competitor. I can’t just sit there and watch,” Franklin said.

However, a rule states that if a player who is not named on the official scorebook enters the game, a technical foul must be called. DeKalb’s coach Dave Rohlman pleaded with the referees that they didn’t want a technical foul called. The referees wouldn’t budge.

During a technical foul, two free throws are granted to the opposing team and no other players are allowed around the free throw line. It is only the shooter, the basket, the ball and a referee.

DeKalb had called a timeout, and Womack entered Franklin into the game. The technical foul was called, and Rohlman asked his players which one of them wanted to take the free throws.

Senior point guard Darius McNeal raised his hand.

Womack huddled his team around the bench as McNeal lined up for his two shots.

The Madison coach couldn’t believe his eyes.

Instead of padding his personal stats with two “free” points, McNeal rolled the ball across the end line, thus making it an official “shot.”

The referee handed McNeal the ball for the second shot and he did the exact same thing.

“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal said. “It was the right thing to do.”

After McNeal rolled the second shot, everyone in the gym stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship – even the Madison players.

“Any one of my teammates would have done the same thing, and I think anyone on the Madison team would have done the same for us,” McNeal said.

In a world littered with selfish acts – only doing something for our own personal benefit without taking others into consideration – there sure are a small handful of decent people out there.

Props to Miss Holtman, Miss Wallace and Mr. McNeal for allowing us to take a step back from ourselves and sports to realize other people actually do matter.

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