Hoop Team’s Gesture Touches Grieving Player

With guys ‘roiding up all over the place and other guys driving around at 90 MPH with their small child in the back seat, it’s nice to hear a heartwarming story out of the world of sports every once in a while. And this story out of Milwaukee is one of those that can restore your faith in the meaning of sports.

Johntrell Franklin

Johntell Franklin, an 18-year-old senior basketball player at Madison High School in Milwaukee, lost his 39-year-old mother to cancer the afternoon of February 7th, just a couple of hours before his team was scheduled to play a home game against DeKalb High School from Illinois. Franklin declined his coach’s suggestion that the game be postponed. What happened the rest of the night is something that he — nor anyone in attendance that night — will ever forget.

Franklin showed up to the game in the second quarter (straight from the hospital where his mother had just passed), planning to just watch and support his teammates. He was showered with support from Madison’s fans and students.

But, the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL says that just watching wasn’t going to be enough for Franklin:

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

(Madison coach Aaron) 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.

You see, the Madison coach hadn’t entered Franklin’s name into the scorebook so in order to be brought into the game, the team would have to be assessed a technical foul. When Franklin was put into the game, DeKalb was awarded two free throws that they didn’t want. In fact, they argued with the referees not to assess the foul, but the officials said that the rules were the rules.

So DeKalb took the free throws, and came up with a plan:

Eventually, (DeKalb coach Dave) 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.

The kid didn’t even give the illusion that he was trying to make the shots. He just tossed the ball up a couple of feet in front of him and let it land harmlessly.

“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.

Franklin scored 10 points as Madison won the game 62-47. Both teams gathered and shared pizza together afterward. Franklin wasn’t there for that, but was grateful for the sportsmanship shown by his opponents:

“Just being in the game was a good feeling,” Franklin said. “I knew my Mom would have wanted me to play. She was always proud of me playing basketball.”