Dave Rohlman and Darius McNeal
(March 2009)

From ESPN and local media reports comes this story of sportsmanship and ethics heroism in high school basketball.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, Milwaukee Madison high-school senior Johntell Franklin’s mother succumbed to cancer. A starter on the school basketball team, Franklin initially told his coach that he was too upset to play, but decided, at the last minute, that he should be on the court in that night's game against DeKalb (Ill.) High School.

Franklin arrived at the gym late, in the second quarter. Because his coach, Aaron Womack Jr,. hadn’t expected him to be available, Franklin's name wasn’t in the scorebook. Under the rules, putting in a previously unlisted player meant that the coach would have to be assessed a technical foul. But the possible two-point penalty was not enough to dissuade Womack from putting Franklin in the game.

Assessed of the situation, DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman and his players told the referees they did not want a foul called and the penalty shots that indirectly resulted from a young man’s family tragedy. But the refs wouldn’t let the team waive the advantage.[ Should they have? I don’t think so. The job of the referees is to call the game according to the rulebook, not to make exceptions due to special circumstances and individual justifications. The next team might want a waiver because a player’s aunt who raised him died, or didn’t actually die but was in a horrible accident, or whose husband was in a horrible accident. Soon there would have to be a “dead parent” exception in the Rules, and coaches would argue over whether “dead” included a coma, or whether “parent” included godmothers. It is better in the long run for the refs to just follow the rules in this situation.]

Here’s what happened next, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When Coach Rohlman asked his team, “Who wants to take these free throws?,'" Darius McNeal, a senior point guard, raised his hand. “You realize you're going to miss, right?” Rohlman asked. McNeal nodded. He went to the free throw line, and set up for a regular free throw. But he only shot the ball three feet in front of him, and watched as it bounced well under the basket. Then he did the same thing with second throw. "I did it for the guy who lost his mom," McNeal told the Journal sentinel. "It was the right thing to do.”

After the game, won by Madison, Coach Womack wrote a letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, saying in part:

"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…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!”

I think Darius is safe.

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