The coach never considered any other option.
It didn’t matter that his DeKalb (Ill.) High School basketball team had ridden a bus 21/2 hours to get to Milwaukee, then waited another hour past game time to play. Didn’t matter that the game was close, or that this was a chance to beat a big-city team.
Something else was on Dave Rohlman’s mind when he asked for a volunteer to shoot two free throws awarded his team on a technical foul in the second quarter. His senior captain raised his hand, ready to go to the line as he had many times before.
Only this time it was different.
“You realize you’re going to miss them, don’t you?” Rohlman said.
Darius McNeal nodded his head. He understood what had to be done.
It was a Saturday night in February, and the Barbs were playing a non-conference game on the road against Milwaukee Madison.
Hours earlier, the mother of Milwaukee Madison senior captain Johntell Franklin died at a local hospital. Carlitha Franklin had been in remission after a five-year fight with cervical cancer, but she began to hemorrhage that morning while Johntell was taking his college ACT exam.
Her son and several of his teammates were at the hospital late that afternoon when the decision was made to turn off the life-support system. Carlitha Franklin was just 39.
“She was young and they were real close,” said Milwaukee coach Aaron Womack Jr., who was at the hospital. “He was very distraught and it happened so suddenly he didn’t have time to grieve.”
Womack was going to cancel the game, but Franklin told him he wanted the team to play. Play they did, even though the game started late and Milwaukee Madison dressed only eight players.
Early in the second quarter, Womack saw someone out of the corner of his eye. It was Franklin, who came there directly from the hospital to root his teammates on.
The Knights had possession, so Womack called a timeout. His players went over and hugged their grieving teammate. Fans came out of the stands to do the same.
“We got back to playing the game and I asked if he wanted to come and sit on the bench,” Womack said during a telephone interview.
“No,” Franklin replied. “I want to play.”
There was just one problem. Since Franklin wasn’t on the pregame roster, putting him in meant drawing a technical foul that would give DeKalb two free throws.
Though it was a tight game, Womack was willing to give up the two points.
That’s when Rohlman asked for volunteers, and McNeal’s hand went up.
He went alone to the free-throw line, dribbled the ball a couple of times, and looked at the rim.
His first attempt went about 2 feet, bouncing a couple of times as it rolled toward the end line. The second barely left his hand.
It didn’t take long for the Milwaukee players to figure out what was going on.
They stood and turned toward the DeKalb bench and started applauding the gesture of sportsmanship. Soon, so did everybody in the stands.
“I did it for the guy who lost his mom,” McNeal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It was the right thing to do.”