Guerry Clegg commentary: Texas basketball moment demonstrates an invaluable lesson for all

sports@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 26, 2013 

A high school basketball coach once told me, "Basketball is just an extension of the classroom. I'm a teacher first."

If only all educators embraced this ideal. People like Peter Morales, head coach of the Coronado High School Thunderbirds boys basketball team in El Paso, Texas. Morales turned his team's final game of the regular season into a lesson for everyone.

A lesson of compassion.

A lesson of perspective.

A lesson of understanding.

For four years, Morales let a kid, Mitchell Marcus, enjoy his place on the team -- as the manager. Mitchell has a developmental disorder, but that never affected his love for basketball. So after four years of seeing Mitchell joyfully collecting and washing other kids' dirty uniforms, Morales decided Marcus had more than earned the right to wear one of his own. The coach let Mitchell dress out.

That alone would have been a wonderful teachable moment. The coach could have left it there and taught a lesson of seeing value in all people regardless of their athletic skills.

A lesson of compassion.

But Morales didn't let the lessons end there. He took it a step further. He put Mitchell in the game in the final 85 seconds with his team up by 13 points. A moderately comfortable lead, yes, but it turns out his plan was to play Mitchell regardless. By the way, this was not just any game. Franklin High and Coronado are just 2.1 miles apart on El Paso's west side. Think Carver-Spencer or Brookstone-Pacelli, El Paso style.

A lesson of perspective.

The crowd started chanting …

"Miiitch-ELL! Miiitch-ELL!"

His Coronado teammates did everything they could to get him the ball. But despite their best efforts, Mitchell didn't score. Two missed shots and a turnover in three possessions.

Oh, well. Morales had given Mitchell his special night. But not even the teacher knew that class was still in session.

Enter Jonathon Montanez. He's a senior for Franklin High, the visiting team. After Coronado threw the ball away trying to get it to Mitchell, Montanez had the duty of inbounding the ball on his own end of the court. Only a few irrelevant seconds remained, Coronado up by 13. Four of the Thunderbirds' players had slowly retreated to their end of the floor. Mitchell walked slowly toward nowhere in particular, rubbing the back of his head, apparently disappointed that he had missed his once in a lifetime chance to score a basket.

Montanez apparently sensed it, too. Rather than pass the ball to a teammate, Montanez called an audible -- to turn these irrelevant final seconds into the most meaningful play of the game. Montanez called Mitchell's name, who naturally was surprised, and passed him the ball near the unguarded basket.

Mitchell caught the pass, his back to the basket, and turned around, took a couple of dribbles, then put up a short shot … off the side of the rim. He caught the rebound and put up another shot … air. A teammate grabbed the rebound and flipped it back to him. Third shot … off the rim again. And again, a teammate flipped him the ball. Time for one more shot. This time, Mitchell banked it off the glass.

Swish!

A second later, the buzzer sounded. The Coronado students stormed the court as if they'd just won the state championship. Mitchell rode off the court triumphantly atop the shoulders of teammates.

Officially, it will be recorded in the final stats as a turnover by Montanez. In reality, it was a beautiful assist.

"I was raised to treat others how you want to be treated," Montanez said. "I just thought Mitchell deserved his chance, deserved his opportunity."

The kid from the rival team delivered his own lesson.

A lesson of understanding.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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