Archive for February 21st, 2010

Close your eyes and shoot

Anita with her little sister AnneMarie, Anita's #1 fan.

After hearing that my great-niece Anita had been invited to compete in a high school girl’s three-point tournament, I dug up an ESPN.com story about Matt Steven, a blind teenager who shoots free throws for his high school team.

Matt’s older brother Joe coaches the team, and he stands under the hoop to rap a cane on the rim whenever his little brother shoots. Matt never played a regular game until last year, when other teams (and the refs) agreed to allow him to shoot all the free throws during a particular tournament. He was 4-for-8 in his first game, and even the fans from the opposite team cheered when he hit his shots.

No one cheered during the second game, though. Matt missed all six attempts. His team was losing by one point with 10 seconds left when their best shooter — 6’4″ senior Ryan Haley — was fouled.

So while it was cute and all, having that blind boy shoot free throws, well, with the game on the line of course the team’s stud would take his place now to make these two last all-important shots. Or would he?

Haley really was going to shoot them, until he looked over at Matt on the bench. “And I thought, He comes to every game, he never misses a practice, he cheers us on. He deserves a shot. I mean, it’s everyone’s dream to make those shots.”

So out comes Matt. And for the first time, the St. Phil {opposite team} fans aren’t rooting for him. In fact, they look like they’d prefer that he shoot straight into the hot dog table. “That might have been the best moment of all for Matt,” recalls Joe. “For once, he was just normal.”

I know exactly how Matt felt. It’s nice to be complimented for the things I manage to do without being able to see – getting to the airport by myself, crossing traffic-ridden streets in Chicago with Hanni, using a talking computer to read and write email messages, those sorts of things. But what really feels good is when we’re held up to the exact same standards as our average peers

The only reason the refs allowed Matt Steven to be a “designated free throw shooter” was because he was blind. In the end, though, Matt had to produce. Just like his teammates.

Matt lets go. Off the backboard and through. Tie game. Crowd goes berserk.
Says Joe: “I think it helped that he’s blind. He couldn’t see the crowd, the scoreboard, his teammates’ faces.”

The crowd stills again. Dribble. Tap. Shoot. Bank. Swish! Up by one. The gym windows nearly break.

Chaos. Joy. Wonder.

The ESPN.com story goes on to describe how Matt’s life has changed after that big game. His teammates call him “Shooter” now. Girls greet him in the school hallways, and he’s thinking of asking one of them to prom. If she’s smart, she’ll say yes. It’ll be the best blind date of her life.

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