Last minute of basketball game will last a lifetime
Thursday was a day when life transcended sports.
It happened innocently enough at a Baldwin Junior High School basketball game. The BJHS eighth graders were playing Prairie View and could wrap up an unbeaten season to add to their Frontier League title. But that became only the backdrop to the excitement that would unfold.
As the game progressed, it was obvious that the eighth graders would once and for all establish themselves as the dominant team in the league. They had stubbed their toes with a late-season loss last year that prevented both the league title and the unbeaten season. They used that as motivation this year and it worked.
But with those matters settled late into the fourth quarter, all thoughts in the gym turned to Edd Stansberry, who was sitting on the bench with his teammates for the first time this year.
Big Edd, as I like to call him, underwent surgery in December to correct his sunken chest. It was by no means a simple procedure and everyone who knows Edd, his parents Lowell and Carolyn, and the rest of the Stansberry family nervously awaited word on the surgery's success.
Although everyone breathed a sigh of relief with surgery's outcome, there was still the lingering question of how he would bounce back. It would be a long recovery process.
The doctors had originally told the Stansberrys that Edd would have to take it easy for quite a while no strenuous activities, much less sports, for about two years. For an active, energetic teen-ager like Edd, that was tough to imagine.
But Edd didn't complain. He went through the recovery process the best he could. A popular kid with his teammates and classmates as well as any adult that's come in contact with the ball of fire Edd missed several weeks of school. Basketball and that undefeated effort his teammates were to embark on were out of the question.
Or at least we thought.
The recovery went very well. Every time I saw Edd during the period he looked better and stronger every time. Then a couple of weeks ago he started telling me he was going to play in the last minute of the last game. I didn't believe it and urged him to take it easy don't rush back.
But I saw him Tuesday at the Baldwin High School junior varsity game, where he was watching brother Glen play. He told me it was a done deal. The doctors had cleared him to play and he was determined to do so in the finale on Thursday.
I again urged caution, but promised him I'd be there to see it. "Wouldn't miss it for the world," I told Edd. Boy, I'm glad I didn't.
With the game in hand Thursday, coach Aman Reaka substituted freely with about two minutes left. Everyone got in but Edd. It became obvious that I certainly wasn't the only one Edd had told about his playing time. The chant started with the student section and quickly was picked up by the rest of the crowd "We want Edd. We want Edd."
Reaka could only smile at the outpouring and, sure enough, with about a minute and a half left, he put Edd in. The crowd went wild.
The game progressed into a foul-shooting contest and, true to his word, Edd stayed away from the contact. But he got up and down the court well and you could tell he was enjoying his return. But then, it happened.
With about 10 seconds left, BJHS came up with a fast-break opportunity off a steal. The ball went to Edd on the outside. He saw Andrew Hannon streaking towards the basket and threw him a pass. Hannon by all rights could have gone in for the uncontested layup. He didn't. Instead he threw it back to Edd, who was standing just inside the 3-point arch.
There was no hesitation. Edd went up with the jumper and as time ran out and the buzzer sounded, the ball drifted through the air, into the basket and hit nothing but net. The two points weren't needed to win the game, but on that day there were not two bigger points scored.
The place went absolutely crazy. Edd was mobbed by his teammates and students. Everyone looked around in amazement and there were plenty of tears shed.
I saw him Friday and again on Saturday. I told him I'd seen a lot of amazing things on football fields, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, etc. over the years, but nothing like that. I asked him if it was a pretty special moment.
"Yeh, it was pretty special," Edd admitted in his often-times underspoken way.
But you could tell he had really been touched by the outpouring of love and support that his teammates, classmates and the fans had given him.
You're the special one, Big Edd, and you deserved it. Welcome back.
One last note. I've known Edd for several years and have enjoyed him immensely. Special doesn't quite do him justice. It wasn't too long after knowing him that I started calling him Big Edd. The name dates back to my college days when Kansas State's basketball program, not football, was nationally ranked and among the Big Eight's best. That was mostly because of Rolando Blackman and Ed Nealy, who both went on to play in the NBA.
Blackman was the star, but it was Nealy who was my favorite. Too short and with no leaping ability, he really had no business playing forward at that level. But he was a wide-body and no one got better position. Big Ed, as he was known, became the leading rebounder of all time for the Wildcats.
That's why I call him Big Edd. I can give no better tribute. Yes, Edd, you're special.