Todd Clippard, a friend of mine who preaches near Hamilton, AL, wrote an article that I would like to share with you. He told a very moving story involving two very talented and competitive high school basketball teams from Hamilton and Sulligent, AL. The event occurred on Senior Night for the Sulligent Blue Devils. It involved one of the players on the Sulligent team, Corey Marchbanks. He is a tall, timid young man. He was one of the seniors who were honored that night. He was introduced with the rest of the seniors to an adoring home crowd. What made this so special is that Corey is mentally handicapped with autism. Practically every time he touches the ball he shoots it. Normally, he doesn’t play until the outcome of the game is fairly certain.
However, on this night the coach put Corey in the starting lineup to jump center, no less. Everyone wondered what was going to happen with Corey in the lineup. It didn’t take long to get an answer. When the referee tossed the ball into the air at the beginning of the game, the center on the Hamilton team didn’t even jump and Sulligent controlled the opening tipoff. They took the ball to their end of the court and passed it to Corey who took two uncontested shots before he made the third one.
The Hamilton team took the inbounds pass and their point guard moved the ball down the court to their basket and calmly made a goal with no one defending him. This was great. Corey has scored and the Sulligent team allowed Hamilton to tie the score with an uncontested shot. Everyone thought the coach would call a timeout and make a substitution for Corey. The crowd would give him a big ovation, and they could get on with the game. But, it didn’t happen that way. Instead, the coach left Corey in the game. The two teams exchanged points in the same manner as they had done previously with Corey scoring Sulligent’s first ten points. At one point in the game, after Corey had missed a shot, the rebound was made by an opponent on the Hamilton team who handed the ball back to Corey who then scored. Every time Sulligent scored, the team would then allow the players on the Hamilton team to take uncontested shots.
After two and a half minutes had elapsed, the score was tied at ten apiece. Timeout was then called by the Sulligent coach. Everyone in the gymnasium rose to their collective feet cheering for the marvelous events they had just witnessed. They had just seen sportsmanship demonstrated at the highest level. During the timeout, Corey is replaced and he takes his normal seat at the end of the bench. He would not play again that night. The outcome of the game is not determined until Hamilton’s point guard drives the lane in heavy traffic and makes an incredible layup with one second remaining on the time clock.
For a long time many fans of both teams will be talking about the exciting conclusion to the game with a game-winning bucket at the very end. However, one thing is for certain, they will remember the first two and a half minutes for the rest of their lives, when two teams and their coaches allowed a mentally handicapped young man to have his “day in the sun.” To me, that is true greatness.