There are good examples and good people in athletics. With all the crud we have had to listen to about Alex Rodriguez, here is a story that really matters about a high school basketball player in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Johntell Franklin, who lost his mother to cancer, and the expression of sportsmanship by an opposing team….
(Coach) Womack sent Franklin, a 6-foot-2 forward, to suit up. He returned to the cheers of the crowd – including the coaches and players from DeKalb, whose amazing display of fellowship and sportsmanship had just begun.
“I was late getting back from the hospital, and they could have called us on that,” Womack said. “But they were great about it.”
“We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events,” said DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman. “We even told Coach Womack that it’d be OK to call off the game, but he said we had driven 2 1/2 hours to get here and the kids wanted to play. So we said, ‘Spend some time with your team and come out when you’re ready.’ ”
Since some of Franklin’s teammates had joined him at the hospital, Womack entered only eight names into Madison’s official scorebook. The game began almost two hours behind schedule.
But Franklin’s desire to play created another problem: The referees were required to call a technical foul against Womack for failing to list Franklin in the scorebook.
“I told the referees I knew there would be a technical,” Womack said. “I put Johntell in after DeKalb called a timeout (midway through the second quarter), and the next thing I heard was DeKalb’s coaches complaining that they didn’t want a technical.”
“We argued, but the referees said those were the rules, even if there were extenuating circumstances,” Rohlman said.
The discussion lasted more than seven minutes. Eventually, Rohlman devised a solution: His team had to shoot two technical free throws . . . but didn’t have to make them.
“I gathered my kids and said, ‘Who wants to take these free throws?’ Darius McNeal (a 5-11 senior point guard) put up his hand. I said, ‘You realize you’re going to miss, right?’ He nodded his head.”
During technical free throws, no other players are allowed around the free-throw lane. So Womack gathered Madison’s players around his bench, on the other end of the court, and was trying to reel in their emotions when he saw something odd out of the corner of his eye:
Instead of swishing through the basket, the ball rolled slowly across the end line.
“I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to the player,” Womack said, “and then he did the same thing again.”
“Darius set up for a regular free throw, but he only shot it two or three feet in front of him,” Rohlman said. “It bounced once or twice and just rolled past the basket.”
“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal said. “It was the right thing to do.”
After the second shot, everyone in the gym – including all the Madison players – stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship.
“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.