Being the sports enthusiasts that you are, it is very possible that you saw the story of the Summerville, S.C. boys' basketball team covered in a terrific piece on ESPN. If not, I will do my best to forward the deep message, because it was quite the story.
When I was watching SportsCenter this morning, and this piece popped up on the screen, the only thing familiar to me about Summerville, S.C. was their extraordinary wide receiver A.J. Green. Green is rated as the second-best wide receiver in the class of 2008, and is headed to play for Mark Richt at the University of Georgia.
It turns out, like most incredible athletes are, Green is a stellar basketball player as well. The picture above is of assistant coach Louis Mulkey, but more importantly, he was a Charleston, S.C. firefighter. He was the captain of engine 15. If any of you have heard of the Charleston Nine, Mulkey was one of the unfortunate nine deaths.
In the emotional piece on ESPN, the last words of Captain Louis Mulkey are heard, "Tell my wife I said, I love you" he said. Mulkey's mayday call came too late.
At this point, I got goose bumps. Mulkey's wife, Lauren, spoke about what he meant to the community, but especially to his basketball team.
You see, Mulkey had been with these kids for a while, and had even predicted they would win a state championship. That prediction, made way back in 2003 when he coached the senior group as younger eighth graders, would be attempted by his beloved "children."
The Summerville squad knew nothing else but to march on, with a memento of their fallen coach on their bench. The Charleston fire department created a special helmet with Summerville's green and gold, bearing Mulkey's name and engine number 15 stitched on it. The team took it to every game, and set it down on the same seat each time, the fourth, Mulkey's spot.
It had been one hell of a beginning to an otherwise tumultuous year: Summerville started out 20-3, and pushed their way through several nail-biters to reach the state final. At one point, with less than three minutes left to play in the semifinal contest and the Summerville players tiring, the crowd began to chant "Louis Mulkey, Louis Mulkey...".That seemed to fire the troops up, as they marched on to the state championship.
One player said that it was an incredible feeling hearing Mulkey's name chanted, and it seemed to give the Summerville players the extra drive they needed to finish the contest strong. This sequence brought me chills. To have no affiliation whatsoever with this program, it still makes you understand how important life is.
After capturing the victory in the semifinals, they would face Spartanburg, the one remaining quality team to deny them a chance at the miracle: a state crown that Mulkey predicted. It was a hard-fought battle the entire way, the lead see-sawing back and forth by just a handful of points.
Then came the big finish: a Summerville and-1 put them up two points with a free throw to follow with 1.7 seconds left, presumably icing the game. After a lengthy timeout, the free throw was clanked off the front rim, and a Spartanburg player corralled the rebound and heaved a three-quarters shot that dropped straight through the nylon netting.
The look on these Summerville faces was one of disbelief. The players pleaded that the shot was after the buzzer, but to no avail. The dream had been foiled by a once-in-a-million toss.
But wait, in a Mulkey-esque wave of glory, the officials convened and the head official disallowed the basket, while swiftly running away from the angry Spartanburg faithful. Summerville 50, Spartanburg 48.
It had been accomplished, the title was theirs. Lauren came down to the court to celebrate with the players, and most importantly, to take pictures with the squad that won the tournament for her husband.
Head Coach Tee Newman acknowledged that on the way home, there was one more stop that the team needed to make: to visit Mulkey's grave.
After an emotional prayer, several players left their medals on Mulkey's grave, and Newman placed the winning trophy next to Mulkey's burial plot. This win was for Coach Mulkey, a warrior on and off the court.
This may be the one and only SportsCenter story that has brought me close to tears, but I am truly so happy for those Summerville kids, to live out their dream while living out the dream of their coach at the same time.
Props to Tom Rinaldi, you have covered one of the most amazing stories ever to air on ESPN.
If you wish to watch the segment click this link: http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/video/videopage?videoId=3421852
Tell me what you think about this story, because I personally thought it was absolutely heart-wrenching.