By Bailey Kozalla, Kaity Gage, and Stevie Siple, Editor-in-Chief, Design Editor, Staff Writer
Doing the right thing when the opportunity presents itself is one of the unspoken rules of being a coach. That is exactly what Saegertown boys basketball coach Greg Molnar did on Dec. 22 at Iroquois High School.
With a definite loss in sight for the Panthers, Iroquois basketball coach Brad Breese substituted physically challenged junior Jared Anderson into the game, hoping he could score his first points in his varsity career.
With less than two minutes left on the clock, and the score 71-32, Molnar told Breese to call a timeout. He knew that Anderson’s best chance at scoring was to shoot from the foul line.
Molnar spoke to the official, “If he misses the shot, and we get the rebound, then give me a technical.”
Working according to plan, Saegertown recovered the ball, and the referee blew his whistle signaling a technical foul. Anderson went to the foul line.
At this moment, the atmosphere of competition in the gym transitioned to one of emotional camaraderie. After Anderson missed the first free throw, the gym fell silent for his final shot. Once the ball left Anderson’s hand, it banked off the backboard, and swished.
Before the ball even hit the floor, the crowd erupted in cheers that lasted for what seemed like minutes.
Anderson also scored the final shot in the game, taking his total points for the evening to three.
Coach Molnar described the moment with characteristic humility: “It was an opportunity to provide a memory and normalcy for a kid who obviously loved basketball but faces challenges no one of us can understand.”
Anderson has been playing the game since he was four years old. Thirteen years later, all of his hard work paid off. “I felt awesome. I’d like to thank your coach and your players being so nice about it. It was a Christmas present for being able to get in and score a basket.”
Anderson plans to attend Edinboro University for either sports medicine or management while also playing on a wheelchair basketball team.
A devoted fan, Charles Curtis expressed his viewpoint in a letter to Principal Tom Baker: “I was very impressed by the way your coach allowed a disabled boy on our Iroquois team to take a shot following a requested technical on Molnar’s part. It was a very emotional moment for me and the people in the gym went wild.”
Curtis has followed local basketball teams for many years, and has never witnessed anything like it. “The young man will remember this moment for the rest of his life. This is what high school sports is all about. Your coach should be recognized for his courtesy.”
Iroquois Assistant Principal Jeannene Willow was also impressed by Saegertown’s sportsmanship. “That was certainly my favorite game of the season this year. I really thought it showed a lot of class on Saegertown’s part. I’m going to remember that game for a long time,” Willow said.
Experiencing the emotion of the crowd, Willow said, “There weren’t too many dry eyes in the gym that night.”
Karen Anderson, Jared’s mother and biggest fan, was speechless. “I was holding my breath. He’s played wheelchair basketball before. That’s been basically all he could do. He managed last year, and I convinced him to play this year.”
Mrs. Anderson has been anticipating his first moments of playing, “When they put him in finally, it was the greatest thing I have ever seen. He works hard at everything he does.”
She described her emotions while watching her son: “When I saw him out on the floor, I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream and I wanted to cheer all at the same time.”
Mrs. Anderson expressed her gratitude to Saegertown as a whole. “I thank the coach, I thank the fans, and I thank the players. I appreciate your school and how they reacted. The sportsmanship they showed means so much.”
(This story was originally published in the Feb. 14 issue of The Panther Press.)