The game started late.
A somber cloud hung over the [Milwaukee Madison] Knights as they played DeKalb, Ill., High School on Saturday, Feb. 7. News spread quickly that Franklin's mother, Carlitha, had died earlier that day after a five-year battle with cervical cancer. She was 39.
Madison coach Aaron Womack Jr. was in Madison's laundry room, washing the Knights' uniforms from the previous night's game, when he got the news.
"I didn't have my cell phone with me back there, so by the time I heard, the junior varsity game had already started," Womack said. "I headed straight to the hospital. Johntell, understandably, he was despondent."
Carlitha Franklin had been in remission recently. But Womack said she had begun to hemorrhage on Saturday morning - while Johntell was at Wauwatosa East High School, taking his college entrance ACT exam. By late Saturday afternoon, the decision had been made to turn off the life-support system.
At the hospital, Womack asked Franklin if he should call off that evening's game. "He said, 'No, tell the guys to go out and do their best,' " the coach said. "I told him we would, and I went back to school."
The rules specify a player has to shoot free throws.
Franklin didn't just want to watch. He wanted to play.
"I'm a competitor. I can't just sit there and watch," he said.
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."
Because there are situations in which a player will deliberately miss a free throw to obtain an advantage, a rule to preclude what everyone understands to be an act of courtesy will not be easy to write.
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."
After the second shot, everyone in the gym - including all the Madison players - stood and applauded the gesture of sportsmanship.This cross-border game is part of both teams' schedules.
This was the third straight year that DeKalb and Madison have played a non-conference game, and as in the other visits, both teams gathered for dinner afterward. "We set it up so that there were four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids," Womack said.The Madison coach has written an open letter to DeKalb High in the DeKalb Chronicle.
That made for an eventful week for the DeKalb boys' basketball team, who hosted Glenbard South the following Friday, in a game where the teams warmed up in red and black and Northern Illinois students and employees were admitted for free.
I was overwhelmed with this display of almost unheard of sportsmanship and class. As I mentioned the game was close, and any opportunity for a score would be very beneficial. As a principal, school, school district staff, and community you should all feel immense pride for the remarkable job that the coaching staff is doing in not only coaching these young men, but teaching them how to be leaders.
Also, I’d like to recognize Darius who stepped up to miss the shot on purpose. He could have been selfish and cared only for his own stats (I hope Coach Rohlman doesn’t make him run for missing the free throws).
If I am unable to coach my own son when he becomes of age, I’m moving to DeKalb and enrolling him as a Barb.