Some People's Kids: A Fallen Coach, An Amazing Triumph...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Fallen Coach, An Amazing Triumph...

In sports, there are stories that emerge from the doldrums of everyday box scores and headlines that capture our attention, make us feel good, and even make us tear up. Some of the best incorporate a mix of sports coupled with everyday life. Some tell tales of defeat or triumph. Some of motivation or heartache. Some of love or belief in something greater than yourself. But the best stories combine all of these. These stories come along every once and a while. Most get lost in the constant barrage of negative stories plastered all over the daily news. But not all.

I was watching Sportscenter two days ago (there's a shocker) and I came across the story of the Summerville Varsity Basketball team in Charleston, South Carolina. Now, usually when ESPN shows these kind of stories, it means that its a really slow sports day and they have to fill the show with something. I, personally, think they should give more air time to things like this, because the people who put them together do a magnificent job. For a good ten minutes, I sat in silence, captivated by this tale. I can only remember thinking, "I hope they show this again and again so that more people get to see this." This was ESPN's best story since the autistic basketball player/manager, Jason McElwain who came off the bench, for the first time, to reign down 6 threes in 2 minutes on Senior Night. If you didn't get a chance to see it the other night here it is: ESPN story.

The story details the life of Summerville assistant coach name Louis Mulkey. As a coach for the basketball and football teams for many years, Mulkey was able to see most of the kids grow up in front of his eyes. The children turned young men had grown to love the Coach. When Mulkey wasn't changing lives on the field or the court, he was saving them off of it as a firefighter for the city of Charleston. One day he was called to a blazing fire. The fire got out of control, or a flashover according to firefighters, and Mulkey was trapped inside. When a flashover occurs, you generally have 2 seconds to get out. Mulkey needed more. His last words were words that still echo in the minds of the people who knew him best. "Car 1!.. Tell my wife... I Love you." That was it. He was gone, leaving behind a wife of only 1 year and 1 day, fellow firefighters, and a group of young student athletes that he helped mold into young men. After an incredibly tough summer, marked by alot of mending of hearts, it was time for basketball season once again. The amazing thing about the human spirit is that when things are at their hardest and in times of tragedy, we become stronger than ever and come together to help each other. This team was no different. A coach's promise from the time they were 8th graders rang loud and clear in their heads... "By the time you are seniors, I promise, you will win the state championship!"

Bonded by that common goal they had the school's best season in years, amassing a 23-5 record. In the sectional semifinals, after the Summerville Green Wave had blown a big lead early, and had fallen behind late, it seemed like their goal would not be realized. This is the point where they would ask their old coach for advice on how to handle this adversity. But instead of Mulkey, the crowd was there to provide the boost. Seemingly if on cue, the crowd started in with ruckus chants of "Lou-IS Mul-Key!, Lou-IS Mul-Key!" From there on out, there was no stopping this team. They stormed back and won going away. It was on to State. After making it through the state tournament, they found themselves in the State Final, something their coach had prophetically predicted years ago.

This is where the story really gets good. The Class AAAA State Championship was against Spartenburg. For most of the game, Summerville was in the proverbial meat grinder, trading baskets in a game that seemed destined to go down to the buzzer. The Green wave had fought their way to the lead late in the game and had a chance with 1.7 seconds left to ice the 2 point lead with a 1-1 opportunity at the free throw line. The first free throw was missed, however, but no one was really that concerned, as Spartenburg had to get the length of the court in 1.7 seconds. A small guard for Spartenburg got the rebound, took one dribble, and heaved the ball from the opposite free throw line. As he took the shot, the loud buzzer sounded in the background. The shot rattled around the rim and dropped. Wow. Summerville had lost. An amazing ending by all accounts, it left many on the Green Wave standing speechless, mouths agape and tears streaming down their eyes, realizing that all their hard work towards the ultimate goal had still come up short. I can imagine thoughts ran through their minds about letting their fallen coach down by not reaching their collective dreams.
From one moment of defeat and despair, the referees created a different moment. As the head referee, moved his arms back and forth in front of him, signaling that the basket had come after the buzzer and was being waved off, the mood turned from tragedy to triumph and jubilation. In reviewing the tape, there was no real way to tell if the shot was actually after the buzzer or before, but that didn't matter. The team was Summerville had come full circle and overcome a great ordeal to become champions. It was clear to everyone who witnessed the miracle, that Coach Mulkey was in the gym that day, watching over his team.

This may have sounded like a some cheesy Disney movie story, but this isn't a movie, its real life. This story proves how one person can mean so much to so many. It also proves that a coach can make such a profound difference in the players that he coaches.. Coaches are not unlike teachers in that sense. Molding young minds not with a major in Sociology or Chemistry, but maybe with a major in Life with a minor in Athletics.

I really hope that everyone enjoys this as much as I have.

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