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The Legend of Whitburn County (standard:other, 15236 words)
Author: themaniacAdded: Sep 20 2000Views/Reads: 2176/1752Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Two friends grow up in a small town, playing basketball and learning about life.
 



Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story


It actually wasn't a bad situation, since Jared and I were playing
eighth-grade basketball for Plainview, and it gave me a "break-in" 
period with Mary Lee. By the time the school year ended, I was 
comfortable with my new step-mom, and actually looked forward to moving 
in to the house full-time. Mary Lee's daughter, Luann, was amiable and 
outgoing, and we grew close over the next few years. 

My dad managed to get the farm sold the first week in September, exactly
three months after he got remarried. We had a big moving day, and Jared 
helped me move my stuff in to his family's back bedroom, and then he 
and his dad helped us move our stuff up to Whitburn. It was a beautiful 
day, right in the middle of Indian Summer, and everything looked like 
it was going to be all right. 

Or so we thought. 

Now, I'll admit that I didn't hear much about what was going on with the
Whitburn School District. I knew that they were building a second 
campus, right next to the existing Whitburn High School building. And I 
kinda knew that Thompsonville High was dwindling in numbers,  but 
Thompsonville had always been the smaller of the two county high 
schools. 

I'd only been staying with Jared's family for a few weeks when his dad
told me that there was a big school board meeting scheduled for the 
first week in October. The board had a new chairman - Mark Petroski - 
who had gone to Morgantown State University, the biggest college in the 
state, for his Ph.D. in Education. He had all these ideas on how to 
improve things, and finally, in the last round of School Board 
elections, he had managed to get elected to the chair. The old school 
board chairman, Christian Wilson, had died of a heart attack after 
serving on the board for something like 40 years. 

Everyone thought that the big school board meeting was going to be about
renaming the elementary school in Whitburn after Wilson. My mom had 
been good friends with Mr. Wilson, and had even worked under him when 
he was both school board chair and principal of Whitburn Elementary. 

What actually happened was a shock. I watched it at Jared's house on the
cable access channel. Petroski opened the meeting by making a statement 
that there were going to be some changes in how the school district was 
going to operate. First, he said, he had found a way to pay for the 
cost of the new addition to Whitburn High, and still have finances left 
over to keep the district well in the black financially. 

This was greeted by applause, since the district had always been close
to the financial edge for the last several years. When he explained how 
he had done it, thought, the applause turned to shocked gasps. 

"The District," he stated, "has entered into an agreement with the
Diocese of St. George's Catholic Church in Thompsonville, and with 
Riverton Developments, to sell the buildings and land of Thompsonville 
High School. The original main building of Thompsonville High will be 
sold to St. George's, for the purpose of opening a Catholic School; the 
newer building will be sold to Riverton Developments for the purpose of 
building a retail and office center." 

Then Petroski dropped the bombshell - "Since Whitburn High School will
have double the capacity for the next school year, all students grades 
9 through 12 in Whitburn County will go to Whitburn High, starting the 
next academic year." 

"WHAT???" screamed Jared's dad at the TV set. Jared and I just exchanged
blank looks. 

Petroski, oblivious of Jared's dad's ranting, presented the proposal to
the board. Then, one of the other members - I think he was the 
financial officer - called for a vote on the proposal. There was a 
massive outcry from those observing the meeting in Whitburn. The voice 
vote on the issue, not surprisingly, was 5-4 in favor. All five votes 
for the measure were from Whitburn-based board members; the other four 
were from Thompsonville. 

"So approved," Petroski gaveled on the table. "The proposal will be put
forth on the November ballot for final approval by the entire school 
district." 

And then, after all the noise had died down, did he announce that the
Whitburn Elementary School would be renamed for Wilson. 

Jared's dad went ballistic. He started cursing left and right at
Petroski. 

He had a good reason to curse. See, something I didn't tell you about
Jared - his last name is Thompson. His great-great-grandfather was the 
man who Thompsonville is named for. His great-grandfather was the mayor 
who built Thompsonville High School. And his uncle was the current 
mayor of the city (his grandfather never went into politics - he was a 
farmer whose land Jared and his parents lived on today). 

When the phone rang, Jared knew instantly who it was. "Uncle Jerry," he
said without missing a beat as he grabbed his coat and a basketball. He 
motioned for me to come with outside - he knew that we wouldn't want to 
hear all the cursing and swearing. 

Jared's dad and his uncle talked on the phone for a long time. I know
they were, because when we came back in, he was just hanging up the 
phone. 

"It's settled," his dad told Jared. "If this measure passes, you're
going to St. George's School." 

I asked him if he knew whether or not the measure would pass. 

"It'll pass," he said bluntly. "There's too many people in Whitburn who
would rather consolidate the entire school district instead of paying 
to send half the county to a smaller high school." He sighed and shook 
his head. "We'll talk about it more in the morning, Jared. Why don't 
you and Billy get your homework done." 

As the weeks went on, it was clear that Jared's dad was right. Too many
people in the northern part of the county wanted the cost reductions; a 
poll by the Whitburn Intelligencer projected the measure to pass with a 
60 percent approval. It wasn't quite that big. The measure was passed 
by about 3,000 votes, with the approval only topping 9,000 votes. 

But it was settled. Thompsonville High would no longer be a public high
school. Saint George's, which to that point had run a small elementary 
school out of their parish hall, would actually have room to expand 
their classes. 

The change was going to affect a lot of things - most of all, the
Northern Lakes Athletic Conference. The conference was an eight-team 
conglomerate of high schools from the four counties around Whitburn - 
Woodfield (Woodfield and Newsburg), Shoreland (Shoreland and Oxford 
Lakes), Chemequon, and Marshall. The Conference was aligned with the 
state High School Athletic Association, which was strictly for the 
public schools in the state. Private schools were in the 
Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association. 

In December, just as we were starting our eighth-grade basketball
season, the ISAA and HSAA came to an agreement to allow the Northern 
Lakes Conference to keep St. George's as a member. It made sense, since 
there was only one other private school in the five-county area - St. 
Michael's in Woodfield, which was a good two hour drive away, and they 
didn't have an athletic program. The ISAA announced that the new school 
would only be allowed to play in their state tournament if they 
qualified for the conference tournament. The HSAA, however, stated that 
if St. George's qualified for the Northern Lakes Conference tournament, 
they would not be allowed to play, since the winner of the tournament 
automatically would advance to the HSAA state tournament. 

Jared's dad still was insisting that he'd be going to St. George's. For
the first time since we were in first grade, we'd be going to separate 
schools. At the end of the school year, I was going to move up to 
Whitburn with my Dad and my step-sister Luann. 

I was feeling sad about it, but Luann (who was two years older than me)
agreed to drive me down to see Jared on a regular basis. I found out 
later that Luann actually had a crush on Jared's older brother, Jerry - 
something that was confirmed when they got married after I graduated 
from Whitburn. 

Basketball was a pleasant distraction during this tumultuous time in my
life. It was basketball that had helped me through the pain of losing 
my mom years ago, and it helped me again in this whole whirlwind of 
changes. But there was something that I noticed as I played endless 
one-on-ones with Jared - he was getting better and stronger and faster. 


The year my mom died, I had a decided advantage on him in ability. I
could shoot; he couldn't. I could hit those outside jumpers, where he 
was having trouble laying it in on me. He kept working, though.  When 
we played a pickup game with me and a few of my cousins before the 
wedding, he put moves on me that were just incredible. He head faked, 
drove, pulled up and put a little jumper right in, nothing but net. He 
did a few other things to me, like nailing an outside 20-footer, even 
hooking one right over me. Now, I knew he'd grown faster than me (he 
was already 5-foot-11 when we entered eighth grade; I was only 5-4 on a 
good day), but he finally realized that he could outmaneuver me. My 
cousins were making comments, like, "Billy, I thought you were a better 
player than this!" And "Jeez, Billy, where'd you find this guy, the 
NBA?" 

I didn't think much of that game until Jared, Jerry and I entered in
this three-on-three tournament down at Lakeside. Lakeside Tech was a 
NCAA Division II school that was big for its basketball, and they were 
sponsoring this tournament. The premise was that Jerry (who was going 
to be a senior at the new St. George's High that year) was going down 
to Lakeside Tech to check out the campus, since Jerry wasn't a bad 
basketball player himself. Jerry also knew we'd be able to test 
ourselves against other players throughout the state. 

Jared and I were the youngest kids in that tournament. The bracket we
were in was open to anyone 14-18 who lived in the state, and there were 
some kids who played for the best teams in the HSAA.  We took them all 
on, and kept winning and winning and winning. Finally, we went up 
against the only other undefeated team in the bracket, a threesome from 
Riverton (the largest city in the state) with two players from Riverton 
North and a kid who was the only other kid close to our age - Mitch 
Jordan. The two older kids would end up going to Morgan State 
University (the NCAA Division I powerhouse in the state). In that game, 
though, we just demolished them. They kept waiting for Jared to dish 
the ball off to Jerry inside, leaving him wide open at the three-point 
arc. He nailed about three treys before they started getting in his 
face. Then he just started dishing it to me and to Jerry, and pretty 
soon we were up by about a dozen. We won the game, then defeated the 
winner of the consolation bracket game to take the tournament title. 
One of the organizers was the head coach of the Lakeside Tech 
basketball team, and he asked Jared how old he was. When he told him he 
was only 14, the coach's eyes popped open wide. 

"Kid, keep your grades up," he told him. "You keep playing like that,
and we'll definitely find you a place at Lakeside Tech." 

Jerry told me later that while he was talking to the coach about
possibly coming to LTU, he kept saying, "That brother of yours could 
start for me right now. That's how good he is." 

My freshman year at Whitburn was interesting, to say the least. Some of
the classrooms in the new building hadn't been completely finished when 
we started school in late August, so I had some of my classes in the 
cafeteria. They sectioned off parts of the cafeteria with these 
cubicle-type walls, and you'd hear one class talking about algebra and 
equations while another class was talking about the Punic Wars - and 
yet another class was listening to a French-speaking lesson from a 
videotape. It was distracting, to say the least. 

Making the basketball team looked like it was going to be hard sailing -
there were at least thirty kids there for the tryouts in late October. 
Whitburn, however, had lost five seniors to graduation, and two of the 
junior players from last year were academically ineligible after 
flunking two classes last year. That left the head coach, Roger Mason 
with one senior, one junior and four sophomores with a total number of 
seven games played between all of them. The JV was even worse - all of 
the players on the team had been freshmen, and they went 0-14 on the 
season. Half of the JV from last year weren't coming back (some of them 
because they just couldn't, or didn't want to, play). So there we all 
were, thirty guys wanting to take 13 spots on the JV and varsity 
roster. 

Half of the players were from Thompsonville, who had maybe one decent
player and a lot of so-so players. Thompsonville hadn't played in the 
Northern Lakes tournament in over a decade, and last year had only two 
wins on the season - one against a non-conference team from Oxford 
Falls, and the other against Whitburn. 

During the tryouts, I made a good impression on the coach by nailing a
few treys and doing some quality driving down the lane. I even tried to 
dish a few passes out for shots, but the guys on the receiving end 
either dropped the ball or missed the jumpers. At the end of the 
tryout, he rattled off the names of 15 guys who would be back for 
varsity practice on Friday. I was on that list. 

I was so excited, I talked about it all the way home with Luann. She was
happy for me, and so were dad and Mary Lee. After dinner, I called up 
Jared and told him the news. He wasn't as happy, though. 

"You remember we thought Coach Halvorsen was going to stay on as the
coach here at Thom... Saint George's?" he told me over the phone. 
"Well, turns out Halvorsen only stayed on to collect his pension. The 
team's going to be coached by some guy named MacGwire. He's got a 
policy that says no underclassmen will play on the varsity team." 

MacGwire, apparently, didn't know his head from his posterior region.
Jared tried his best to show off his talents during the drills, but 
after MacGwire laid down his policy about underclassmen before even 
starting the tryouts, Jared's heart wasn't exactly in it. 

"He didn't want me to come back for practice, but he only had 21 kids
there, besides me," he told me. He told me that I had to improve my 
game if I wanted to play. Improve my play! This guy never saw me play, 
dammit! He doesn't know crap about anything. I asked him if he'd seen 
any of the YMCA 8th grade league games in Thompsonville - he didn't 
even realize there was a YMCA league! 

Jared and I had played in the YMCA boys 8th grade league. There was no
state-wide association for elementary school basketball, so we had to 
play in the Thompsonville YMCA league. Jared had just torn things up on 
occasion - I seem to recall a 50-point night once - and Halvorsen had 
seen it and liked what he saw in Jared. 

We found out later that Halvorsen was forced out as coach at the new
Saint George's for one very significant reason - he wasn't Catholic. 
Shaun MacGwire was not only Catholic, but he was a Notre Dame graduate, 
with a Masters Degree in Coaching. He probably was looking to 
eventually take on a coaching job at St. Mary's Immaculate University 
in Riverton, if their coach (Roger Mayers) ever retired. He didn't have 
time for a kid's league in a podunk town. 

Jared was so caught up in his furor over MacGwire that he never did ask
me how I did in my tryouts. It's a good thing; he probably would have 
never spoken to me again if he had found out just then. 

I managed to stick with the Whitburn varsity as a freshman, but I didn't
really get into a whole lot of games. The varsity had gone 10-10 the 
year before, but we were going to be lucky if we won four games this 
year. We won two non-conference games, one with Oxford Falls and 
another with Washura. Washura had a two-hour bus trip, and were 
physically wiped when we whipped them, 85-14. Unfortunately, it was 
something they wouldn't forget when they beat us at their fieldhouse 
the next week... and the next six games we played against them...). We 
hit the conference schedule, and couldn't buy a win. MacGwire refused 
to schedule Whitburn until March, for some slightly irrational reason, 
so we played everyone else in the Northern Lakes conference - and lost. 
By the time we faced the St. George's varsity, we were 2-16, and in 
last place in the conference. 

As the year went on, Jared talked about how MacGwire constantly ranted
about life in Thompsonville. He didn't like the IGA store, he didn't 
like Marty's Hardware - he didn't even like the Hardee's downtown. His 
poor attitude showed in the amount of time he spent with the JV team - 
which was next to nothing. He let his basketball manager run JV 
practice in the small gym of St. George's while he ran the varsity 
practice in the Fieldhouse. 

This wasn't so bad - the manager, Jerry White, was a buddy of Jared's,
and Jared essentially ran the practice. Those nine guys started a 
little slow, but pretty soon they had an 8-4 record in conference 
games. The varsity was at 4-14. 

The stage was set for the county championship - which was about all it
was going to be for, since both schools were out of the running for the 
fourth spot in the conference tourney. Whitburn went to Thompsonville 
for their first game against Saint George's - and I was the starting 
point guard. Coach Mason liked how I'd come off the bench and shoot the 
bombs, and our regular point guard was hurting with an ankle injury. 

It was strange to go into the Saint George's Fieldhouse. Where they used
to have the "Fightin' Tigers" logo of Thompsonville on the wall, the 
sign now said "Crusaders". 

I wish I could say that I had a great night, scoring left and right, and
we went on to beat Saint George's. But that night, the 2nd of March, 
was the worst night I ever had in organized basketball. I took a shot 
from the perimeter with a defender trying to block the jumper, and when 
I turned to go back up court, our legs got tangled and I went down in a 
heap. I ended up twisting my ankle, having to go to Thompsonville 
Medical Center to get it checked out. 

Jared, meanwhile, had lit up our JV with a 42-point game, as the
Crusader JV beat them, 56-24. He went along with me and my parents when 
I had to go to the hospital. After they put a soft cast around the 
ankle to immobilize it, we heard that St. George's had won, 58-42. To 
that point, I'd been averaging about 17 points a game, so it didn't 
take too much to figure out that things might have been different if I 
had been there - and I said so to my parents. 

Jared, of course, took the air out of my balloon when he heard that -
"Yeah, but if I was playing for Saint Georgies, I woulda scored 30 more 
and we'd have beaten you 88-59." 

The ride home was quiet after that. 

The season ended three days later when the Crusaders came up to Whitburn
and pulled a repeat performance, winning this time 60-43. As time went 
on over the spring and summer, the memories of that painful night would 
diminish - mostly because of a friend of Luann's who set Jared and me 
up on a date for the Spring Formal. 

Their names were Katie and Tamara Williamson. They were twins. Katie was
a smart, serious type; "Tam" was a flighty, spur-of-the-moment type. 
Tamara was my date that night, and Katie was Jared's - but by the time 
the night was through, it was apparent as to who liked whom. 

I was drawn to Katie right away. She was able to talk about things from
state history to national politics to whether or not professional 
sports athletes made too much money. We hit it off after Tamara went to 
talk to her gobs of cheerleader friends at Whitburn, and Jared went 
with her to talk to the jocks he knew that were with the gobs of 
cheerleader friends. Jared wasn't exactly shy about showing his 
appreciation for Tamara, either. 

About halfway through the night, the two of them went off to the ladies'
room to "powder their noses." Jared and I discussed how much we liked 
each other's date, and we made a decision - we were going to switch, 
right there. Just like changing defenses, from the zone to a 
man-to-man. 

What we didn't know at the time was that the girls had made the same
decision in the restroom. When they came back, they told us that they 
were switching dates. Jared and I looked at each other, and we didn't 
exactly argue. 

That night was the start of a great relationship. We spent most of the
rest of our high school days with each other, the four of us as some 
wandering band of basketball crazy, fun loving kids. It was one of 
those relationships that would last a lifetime - and it would, 
eventually. I don't think I'm giving away the ending to the story when 
I say I married Katie and Jared Tamara later on. 

Our sophomore year was a good one. The highlight of the year was when
Jared and the St. George's JV basketball squad arrived in Woodfield for 
a game in the middle of December, expecting to play a JV game. Instead, 
they saw the Woodfield varsity squad coming out onto the court. 
Apparently, MacGwire had scheduled the St. George's Varsity to play 
down in Riverton against St. Mary's Prep, assuming that the game 
against Woodfield would be for the JV teams. The Woodfield coach didn't 
understand that to be the case, and told Jared and the kids that the 
varsity game would be forfeited if they couldn't get a team there. 

Jared called down to Riverton, but couldn't get a hold of MacGwire. He
suddenly had a thought - he asked Woodfield's coach, Rod Maryland, if 
he knew of any ISAA rules against playing two games against two teams 
on the same night. Apparently, there wasn't, and Jared talked to the 
guys on the JV team: "Let's play them both. What the heck." 

So, without a coach, and with only a manager and team statistician to
oversee the team, the St. George's JV took on both the Varsity and JV 
squads of the defending conference champion Woodfield Eagles. The JV 
game was shortened to only 16 minutes by agreement, so the St. George's 
team could rest between games. The St. George's squad won, 40-24, in 
the reduced time. Jared scored 32 of the 40, and it was the JV's fourth 
win on the season. 

Then, they came out for the varsity game. Tam told me about it later,
since she came to pick him up after what she thought would be his only 
game of the night. The Crusaders won the opening tip, and from there on 
out it was all Jared. Jared started hitting threes like no one's 
business, and they played a tenacious defense that held Woodfield to a 
mere eight points in the first period. Jared had 12 points in the first 
period, but Woodfield would double-team him in the second period. The 
Eagles scored twice to take a 13-12 lead halfway through the second 
period. 

Jared called a time-out. The team went to the bench, and Jared told his
teammates to screen him for a shot at a three - but "take your time," 
he told them. The Crusaders went out and did just that. He waited for 
the screen, they got a mismatch with about 10 seconds to go, and then 
he lofted up a perfect 20-footer that swished through. Woodfield tried 
to get a quick basket, but their last-second shot of the half missed, 
and the Crusaders had the one-point lead at the half. 

St. George's got the ball on the alternating possession rule at the
beginning of the second half. They never turned it over. The Crusaders 
did launch "two or three shots," according to Jared, but they came down 
with the rebound and worked it over again. Jared took a last second 
shot, got fouled going up for score, and went to the line to shoot two. 
He calmly sank both to give the Crusaders a 17-13 lead. 

The Eagles got the ball at the start of the fourth period. They ran the
ball down, and Miguel Gonzalez, their star forward, hit a trey to pull 
them within one. On the next trip down for the Crusaders, as soon as 
Jared touched the ball they cleared out, setting Gonzalez on the low 
post trying to funnel Jared in to him. Jared faked as if he would drive 
the lane, pulled up and shot a three from the top of the key to make it 
20-16. Gonzalez drove in on Jared on the next possession, took a shot 
that missed but drew the foul. Amazingly, it was St. George's first 
foul of the entire game. Gonzalez sank both free throws to pull the 
Eagles within two. 

The Woodfield coach decided at this point that he had enough. He yelled,
"PRESS!" to his team as the Crusaders in-bounded the ball. They did, 
and picked up four straight fouls against Jared, putting them on the 
edge of the bonus. Jared then in-bounded to teammate Chris Smith, who 
had the ball stripped from him and taken in for an easy lay-up. Tie 
game at 20 with under three minutes left. 

Jared called for another time-out. He told his teammates to try to clear
out, he was going to drive it, see if he could get the basket and the 
foul, and then they could try to play for the last shot. He got the 
in-bounds from Smith, and the rest of the team dutifully cleared out. 
He drove down the lane, got hacked on the arm as he went up - and the 
ball still went in. He went to the line and calmly sank the bonus. 
Woodfield responded by marching the ball down court, giving the ball to 
Gonzalez on a perfect screen, and sank a trey to tie the game again at 
23, with just under two minutes to go. 

Jared walked the ball down the court, thought for a second and surprised
everyone when he drove in, took the shot and scored to take a 25-23 
lead - with a minute and a half to go. 

His teammates were screaming, "What the hell are you doing?" (I can
imagine some of the priests taking in the game weren't too happy with 
that, but it was the truth). Then, they watched as Jared then stepped 
right in front of Gonzalez as he walked the ball down, making him fall 
down. Second personal, second team foul. Before they could in-bound the 
ball, he called another time-out. 

"Foul them," he said. "We've got 85 seconds and three fouls to give.
Don't let them near the basket. If they get to the line, we get the 
ball and the last shot." 

He was prophetic. Smith got nailed twice reaching in on the ball holder.
Point guard Terry Martin then  got called for a foul trying to knock 
the ball loose. All of it done within twenty seconds. On the in-bound, 
Gonzalez took the ball, and with Jared guarding him, drove to the 
basket. Jared got knocked down, and the ball went out of bounds, but he 
was called for the foul. (Tam insisted to me when she told me about the 
game, "It was a complete charge on Gonzalez's part!") Gonzalez sank 
both free throws to tie the game with fifty seconds to go. 

They didn't press this time, and Jared walked the ball up to the time
line. He dribbled around, handed the ball to Smith - who handed it 
right back to him and shook his head, "uh-uh." Gonzalez was on him, 
preventing the pass. He walked around to the top of the key, stopped, 
and handed it off to Smith again. Smith came around, dribbled once and 
gave it right back to him. The seconds ticked away: 15, 14, 13, 12... 

Time running down, he set up. He eased back into Gonzalez, trying to get
him to commit. Gonzalez didn't bite. Then Jared faked to his left, so 
solidly that Gonzalez followed, but then backed up beyond the 
three-point arc and let loose with a perfect jumper that drained the 
net. 28-25 with two seconds to go. 

Woodfield tried to call time-out before the horn sounded, but the ref
signaled the game was over. Final score: Jared 28, Woodfield 25. 

The manager took a photo of the shot Jared made, and it made the front
page of the Thompsonville Times. Hernandez was practically on all fours 
and way out of position to try to stop Jared from driving. And all 28 
points scored were by way of Jared. 

MacGwire was not happy when he learned of the game. The Crusader Varsity
squad had been soundly defeated at the hands of St. Mary's Prep, 53-26. 
He subsequently suspended Jared for two games - instead of taking 
notice that Jared's totals added to the Varsity totals would have meant 
a win against St. Mary's. 

The ISAA made things worse for MacGwire, ruling that St. George's would
have to cancel a non-conference home game to meet the scheduling 
requirements of no more than 20 regular season games. 

That, however, wasn't the ultimate insult to MacGwire. At the next game,
against Oxford Lakes at Thompsonville, none of the JV players showed up 
for the game. Chris Smith's father gave MacGwire a note, signed by the 
entire team: If Jared doesn't play, we don't play. Down at the bottom, 
beneath the signatures, was an equation: 26 + 28 = WIN. 

MacGwire responded in his typical manner: after a verbal tirade of epic
proportions, he told Mr. Smith that his son and the rest of the team 
were suspended for two games. Mr. Smith then told MacGwire to "go to 
Hell and stay there." Chris transferred to Whitburn the next day. 

It got really bad during the game when some of the sophomore
cheerleaders (some who were friends with Tami) started putting together 
"We Want Jared!" signs. The first time they pulled the signs out (after 
Oxford Lakes' varsity team went up 12-3 after the first period), 
MacGwire saw the sign, went out to the cheerleader who was holding it 
and tore it out of her hands. The students booed him unmercifully, and 
that was when the chanting started. 

"We want Jared! We want Jared! WE WANT JARED!" 

The chanting went on for the rest of the game - and for the rest of the
season. It got even louder in the first game back for the JV, when 
Jared took an alley-oop pass from Davey Wilson on the first shot of the 
game and slammed it through - something unheard of in a JV game. The 
score was 21-0 by the end of the first period. 

The game almost didn't go off, though. In the locker room before the
game, there was a near-mutiny when MacGwire announced who was going to 
start - and Jared wasn't on the list. The starting forward, Davey 
Wilson, started to take his uniform off. "If Jared's not starting, I'm 
not playing," he told MacGwire. MacGwire then took the next guy off the 
bench and told him he was starting. Same reaction. This kept going 
until only one player other than Jared was left - George Kryzniki, a 
slightly chubby kid who had a jumper and not much else. "Don't even 
think about it" was all he had to say to coach. It would have been 
Kryzniki's first start ever - and he turned it down. MacGwire then 
threatened another team-wide suspension, when Jared pulled out the ISAA 
rulebook to the part about forfeits. 

"Any school forfeiting three consecutive games for non-injury or
non-academic reasons shall be subject to an audit by the Association, 
with a mandatory suspension of the school's program in that sport for a 
minimum of two seasons," he read. He then looked up at MacGwire, smiled 
briefly and put the book down. 

MacGwire stomped out of the locker room into his office. 

At the end of the season, it had become painfully obvious that MacGwire
had become an out-of-control maniac when it came to coaching. The 
school principal, Father Michael Parrish, decided only to relieve 
MacGwire of his duties as athletic director. The St. George's long-time 
football coach, Dante Gerrold, re-took the job. 

Word of how badly MacGwire handled kids got around, though, and not a
single returning player wanted to play for him their senior year. 
MacGwire had a total of 10 players - including Jared. Apparently, he 
tried to convince Gerrold that he could have a JV and a Varsity team. 
It was some cockamamie scheme that would have the three froshes and the 
two sophs play JV, while all five juniors would play varsity. He'd take 
two guys from the team not playing and put them on the bench. Gerrold 
talked him out of it, and gently suggested that he simply take the 10 
players he had and play them all on the varsity squad. Marshall wasn't 
fielding a JV team that year, either, so there wouldn't be a scheduling 
problem. 

Now, I know what you're thinking - the ISAA rule above stated
"scheduled" games. If no JV games were ever scheduled, the rule 
wouldn't apply. The ISAA ruled as much on the subject, and St. George's 
started the season with its first varsity team to include 
underclassmen. Considering that St. George's had only played two 
seasons, of course, this wasn't much of an accomplishment. 

The response by the team was to roll out to six straight wins, the last
being the opening game of an eight-team invitational down in Riverton. 
They then lost the semifinal against Riverton Tech, and got whomped in 
the consolation game by Riverton North. Mitch Jordan of North just 
embarrassed Jared, pumping in 42 of North's 60 points and holding Jared 
to only a dozen. 

When they came home, it got worse - Jared pulled a leg muscle against
Woodfield early in the game, and sat out the rest of the game and the 
next one against Oxford Lakes. St. George's lost both of those games. 
When Jared came back, they ran off a seven game streak, never winning a 
single game by less than a dozen. Jared racked up five 40-point games, 
and never scored fewer than 31 in any of the seven games. 

I was up-close and personal for the last win. All this time that Jared
had been going through his soap opera at St. G's, I was having a 
half-way-decent career at Whitburn. The team had been mediocre in my 
freshman and sophomore years, but with all the turmoil at St. George's, 
we were starting to get the pick of the basketball crop in Whitburn 
County. Where the best players in the county tended to split between 
the two schools, now most of them were ending up with Whitburn. All of 
them, that is, except for Jared. 

Anyway, the Crusaders wandered into our fieldhouse with us leading the
conference by a game over Woodfield and St. George's. It looked like 
we'd be able to keep up - we were tied after the first period, and down 
by only two at the half. 

Jared, however, caught fire in the second half, and they just ran away
and hid from us. Jared came within a point of setting a Thompsonville / 
St. George's record for scoring with 49 points against us, but MacGwire 
took him out of the game with a minute to go and the Crusaders up by 
18. 

MacGwire said immediately after the game to the radio announcer on WHIT
that it wasn't because of any grudge or anything, it was just because 
he didn't want Jared to get hurt, with key games against the top four 
teams in the conference coming up over the next week. Jared didn't 
argue, however - and he got a standing ovation from the fans when he 
sat down. Everyone in Whitburn County knew about Jared Thompson. 

What happened after the game I heard from three different sources: both
of the individuals involved, and from Katie. From what each of them 
told me, I pieced together that this is pretty much what happened: 

Before the game, Jared and Tam got into an extended discussion (read:
argument) about who was going to win the game. Tam told Jared that 
"Billy and Whitburn are gonna kick your butt." Jared, being the type of 
person that he is, responded with, "Wanna bet?" 

And that was what started the whole thing. I noticed when we were
leaving the court at the half, Tam had made a pantomime in the general 
direction of Jared that looked like she was driving a car. It turns out 
that that was what Jared's side of the bet was: If Whitburn won, he 
would have to drive Katie all over the place for the next week. And 
Katie was a very active girl. 

That was incentive alone, according to Jared, to step it up a notch.
Turns out, however, that wasn't the real incentive. Jared and Tam had 
been getting hot and heavy in recent days, which I already knew. 
Apparently, Jared bet her that if St. George's won, she'd have to "put 
out" for him. 

That night. 

Katie filled me in on the details after that: The new Whitburn Athletic
Center has a strange setup, since the old Fieldhouse was originally 
North of the current Fieldhouse. The locker rooms used to be where the 
new pool is located. From what I understand, during construction they 
decided not to connect the building where the pool was being built with 
the Fieldhouse construction. After the foundation was laid, it was 
realized that there was a 10 foot wide gap between the wall where the 
pool construction ended and the Fieldhouse began. This wouldn't have 
been a problem, if the locker rooms weren't supposed to be connected. 
To remedy this, they built a hallway between the two buildings, ending 
at pool maintenance room. The problem didn't become apparent until the 
interior was finished - to get from the showers connected to the pool 
to the locker rooms, you had to walk across this hallway. 

To complicate matters, the bathrooms were closest to the hallway, with
the coaches' offices on the side closest to the lobby of the 
fieldhouse, which was on the East side of the building. 

Apparently, Tam got up and left when we were down by 20 with four
minutes to go. She had planned to celebrate Whitburn's win with some 
sparkling grape juice with Jared - as he drove her home. She switched 
to plan B. The only way you could look into the sauna/jacuzzi area was 
from the Natatorium. The door to the hall separating the showers and 
the lockers (known to Whitburn students as "Streaker's Alley") was 
easily double locked. No one was in the weight room after the game, 
since it wasn't open on weekends, so the likelihood of anyone seeing or 
surprising them was practically nil. 

She sneaked into the Visitor's lockers, found Jared's locker and left a
note to meet her by the pool entrance by the jacuzzi. He found the 
note, took a brief shower, and sneaked out into the pool area. He found 
Tam in the sauna, wearing nothing more than a smile and holding a glass 
of sparkling grape juice. 

Without going into the gory details (which none of the three parties
cared to share), suffice to say Jared took advantage of the situation. 
The two of them had sex in the jacuzzi, right then and there. (Now, I 
know what you're thinking - no, Jared told me he did use a condom.) 
What's amazing is that no one noticed that Jared was missing. He had 
his change of clothes back by the showers, but it didn't look like he 
wasn't in the shower room. Afterwards, Jared rushed back to the shower 
room, hurried, got dressed and innocently met a slightly disheveled 
Tamara in the lobby. 

Looking back on the whole thing, they essentially got away with one.
They consummated their relationship, and no one was the wiser. It 
wasn't until Katie told me about it on our date on Monday night - the 
first day of spring break - that my wonder as to why Tam seemed to 
smell of chlorine water made sense. 

Katie and I had a long talk that night, too. We decided that we should
wait until we were married to have sex. We weren't ready for the 
possible "side effects" of sex - namely, kids and pregnancy. We did 
have a good kiss-and-hold session, though; then we headed back to 
Katie's house, where we were going to meet up with Jared and Tam. 

What we didn't know was that everything was going to be turned upside
down the moment they walked in the door. 

I guess I should explain my remark about "Streaker's Alley." It came
about when, in my freshman year, the first gal saw the first guy come 
out of the shower with nothing on but a towel. It gradually evolved 
from that into attempts by the girls to grab the towels off the guys as 
they left the showers. Some of the gals were convinced that the guys 
really weren't naked under the towels, and one or two of them tried to 
prove it. The first time, the guy had on underwear. The second guy 
didn't, and the gal chased him all the way into the guys' locker room. 
That was when it evolved into gals "cutting through" the guys' showers 
en route to the girls' lockers. It got to be a sort of initiation rite 
for the girls - especially for the cheerleaders. 

The teachers tried to stop it, but then they devised new ways of
"sneaking and streaking," as they say. Apparently, it was Tam who did 
the ultimate "streak": she ran through the guys' showers, then through 
the guys' lockers (away from the offices) and then out the door. Tam, 
of course, never was the bashful type. Katie always contends this was 
how Tam ended up as captain of the squad; Tam downplays it as 
"coincidence." 

Anyway, the same night that Katie and I were talking about life, Jared
was at basketball practice. (St. George's wasn't on Spring Break that 
week.) Tam was going to meet him after practice to pick him up, then we 
were going to meet at her house to watch some videos. Jared was his 
usual "last guy in the gym" self, shooting baskets and working on his 
jumper. Coach MacGwire, his assistant and the team manager were the 
only ones still left in the building. 

What happened next would change the lives of a lot of people. When Tam
pulled up, she saw coach MacGwire leaving the building. ("I saw him get 
in his car and drive away," she told me later.) She wandered inside, 
catching the manager as he was leaving. He told her that Jared was 
still in the locker room. She then asked him if the girls' lockers were 
open, since she needed to use the bathroom. 

While she went into the girls' lockers to use the bathroom, Jared was
emerging from the showers next door in the boys' lockers. As he went 
into the showers, Jared said that he saw MacGwire leave as he went into 
the showers, but noticed that the light was still on in the coach's 
office. He assumed that the assistant coach was still in there, which 
he was. 

Tam noticed that the locker room was laid out where the coaches couldn't
see if someone was coming in without directly looking at the door. That 
was when she decided she was going to sneak in the locker room door, 
"to see if Jared was almost ready to go," was her official explanation. 
The unofficial explanation, according to Katie, was that "she wanted to 
give him a blow-job right by his locker." Either way, Katie sneaked in 
without being seen by the assistant coach, and found Jared's locker. 
She nearly scared the crap out of him by grabbing him from behind. 

Meanwhile, the assistant coach is in the office, jamming away to the
radio, completely oblivious to everything and obviously unaware that he 
is the only person over the age of 21 in the entire building. 

Jared and Tam both contend that they did nothing just then, but there's
just barely enough of a gap in all the stories that something could 
have happened. Jared contends they argued over why the hell she came in 
there. Tam says that Jared told her to lay off, he had to finish 
getting dressed and then let the coach know he was leaving. 

They both sneaked back to the entrance of the locker room (after he had
finished dressing). He told her to get out before coach MacGwire came 
back in. Tam protested, telling him that MacGwire was gone, she had 
seen him pulling away in his car several minutes before. They both saw 
that the assistant coach was still listening to the radio and not 
paying attention to the locker room. 

He then urged her towards the door, telling her, "Get out before
somebody catches you in here." 

Which was the exact moment that MacGwire came through the door. Tam
turned around and was face-to-face with MacGwire. 

They all looked at each other. 

There was a long moment of silence. Even the music stopped. That was
because the assistant coach had chosen that exact moment to come out of 
the office. 

"Get out of here, NOW!" MacGwire boiled. Jared and Tam raced out the
building, not even pausing to stop and listen as MacGwire continued to 
rant. "You're HISTORY! You're GONE, THOMPSON! OFF THE TEAM, OUT THE 
DOOR, NEVER GOING TO SET FOOT IN THIS BUILDING AGAIN!" 

Jared was expelled from St. George's the next morning, on the "moral
turpitude" clause in the student conduct code book. 

It probably isn't a big surprise that St. George's basketball team went
into a nose dive after that, losing their last three games of the 
season and then promptly losing to St. Michael's in the first round of 
the ISAA tournament. What was worse was that this was St. Michael's 
first year with a basketball program. 

Whitburn didn't fare any better. Woodfield tore us apart the next day,
just as all the accusations and finger pointing started. Jared was in 
the stands for our game, watching his best friend and his soon-to-be 
schoolmates (since he immediately transferred after the expulsion) get 
whipped by the Eagles. 

It was the last year of the four-team tournament for the conference
championship, too. Back in January, they announced that six out of the 
seven HSAA teams in the Northern Lakes Conference would make the 
conference tournament the next season. We all suspected that the change 
was made to appease some ultra-liberal in Morgantown who wanted as many 
teams to be eligible for the state tournament as possible - "to improve 
the self-esteem of the players." 

This season, however, Woodfield walked to the conference title by
winning their last three games. Then, they won the conference tourney 
by beating Newsburg (who beat us, 76-53 in the semis), and advanced to 
the HSAA final four. There, they ran up against Morgantown West, which 
was a basketball factory. They had at least one guy go to the 
McDonald's All-American All-Star Game three years in a row. Just a few 
years before, they had an alumni end up with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. 
That is how good they are. They tore apart Woodfield the way the USA 
Dream Team took apart Olympic opponents. Some weren't even as kind to 
compare it to that; references in the Morgantown State Journal 
mentioned that the Eagles "seemed to use the defensive schemes of the 
Washington Generals." 

Meanwhile, as you could guess, Jared was in a massive funk. He
transferred to Whitburn for two very important reasons: a.) the state 
laws regarding school attendance stated that expulsion from private 
schools made attendance at a public school mandatory; and b.) he had to 
do it quickly or he would lose any hope of ever playing again. The HSAA 
and ISAA had rules about transferring from school to school, and in 
Jared's case, he would have to sit out one whole calendar year. The 
one-year rule didn't apply if the move was voluntary (as in Chris 
Smith's case, which meant he only had to sit out the rest of the school 
year). Nor did it apply if the parents moved into the district (as in 
Davey Wilson's case, when his parents moved to Whitburn from 
Thompsonville - he was eligible to play for us the moment he stepped 
through the door). 

That summer, me, Chris and Jared went to Riverton for another 3-on-3
tournament sponsored by Riverton State University, which had just 
become a lower-tier Division I NCAA school. We lost in the winner's 
bracket finals to Mitch Jordan and two other members of the Riverton 
North squad. Then, we beat the winning team from the loser's bracket, 
and turned around and beat Jordan's threesome by a pair. 

Only problem was, in the winner's bracket game, Jared and Jordan had
banged together going up for a rebound, and Jared twisted his ankle. He 
gamely kept playing, but by the time we played our fourth game of the 
day, he couldn't do much more than do the old "toreador" style of 
defense (you know, "OLE!" as the offensive player goes by you). 

Jared insisted that if they had just one more day, let the ankle rest,
then take them on, we could have won. This was a point well taken, 
since he was fine when we finally got home the next day. 

There was one last bit of justice that was served out of the expulsion
incident. Jared's younger sister, Jenny, still went to St. George's, so 
Jared's dad and his Uncle Jerry (who was a trial lawyer) brought 
negligence charges against MacGwire. It turned out that MacGwire not 
only left his assistant in charge while there was an underage student 
still in the building, but he also had no intent on returning. Had he 
not stopped at the local KwikMart and discovered that he didn't have 
his wallet, he wouldn't have come back to the school at all. (That was 
why the assistant coach had stepped out of the office as MacGwire came 
in - to hand him his wallet.) The charges stuck, and he was given the 
pink slip as a teacher and as a coach at St. G's. Gerrold took over as 
the interim basketball coach. He would resign as AD and coach within a 
year. 

The hearings that led to MacGwire's dismissal included testimony from
Tami and Jared. When both acknowledged that nothing improper happened 
when Tami went into the locker room, the people of Whitburn County 
believed them. Sympathy for Jared rose even as he finished out the year 
at Whitburn. Some of the local businessmen who were members of the 
Panther Pride Booster Club tried unsuccessfully to convince the HSAA to 
rescind the "one-year rule" for transfer students. 

Interestingly, MacGwire managed to get an assistant coaching position at
St. Mary's Immaculate University in Riverton. When Coach Mayers finally 
retired, however, MacGwire didn't get the nod as the head coach. That 
honor went to - you guessed it - Coach Roger Halvorsen. 

Each year, the Panther Pride Booster Club paints a schedule for the
boys' and girls' interscholastic teams, and hangs them outside the 
fieldhouse at the beginning of the new sports season. The schedule for 
boys' basketball was apparently altered one night, and the date 
"February 27" was circled in red paint. That was the game against St. 
George's - but everyone knew that it was really the day that Jared came 
back. And that was the date we were all waiting for. 

The wait would be a long one for both Jared and me. At the first home
game of the season, I went up for a rebound and came down wrong on my 
ankle. I knew the second I landed on it that I'd broken it. It hurt 
like hell, and I had to be carried off the court to the hospital. Jared 
came down from the stands to help me to the cart, and even went with me 
and my dad to the hospital. 

The break was bad enough where I wasn't going to be playing ball for a
couple of months. It didn't help that Chris came down with - are you 
ready for this? - the measles while I was gone, and Davey couldn't take 
up the slack by himself. We rattled off five straight losses, then 
managed to win the first game of our holiday tournament against St. 
Michael's when Chris came back. Unfortunately, after the game Davey 
came down with the flu, and we promptly lost to Shoreland in the 
championship round. After two more losses, I was finally able to walk 
without a cane or a soft cast on my foot. I went out and got high-tops 
that had a Velcro strap across the top, to protect the ankle from 
further injury. In the first game back, I scored 25 and Davey and Chris 
scored 21 each, and we whipped up on Marshall at their gym, 87-53. The 
next game, we all scored over 20 again and beat Chemequon by 22. 
Everyone at school was hyped up. Even though we were 4-9, we still had 
seven games left, and four of them were at home. 

The only problem was that the next game was against the team that had
won the state title two years ago, Riverton Tech. They'd lost three in 
a row to Riverton North and Washura West, and were ready to take out 
their frustrations on us. 

It was bad from the opening tip. Chris went up to take the jump, and the
other center, Willie Green, just plucked the ball out of the air. Two 
seconds later, he fired a pass to forward Marty Williamson, an all-HSAA 
team member the previous season, who went up and laid it in. He then 
promptly stole the in-bounds and laid it in again. We managed to get 
the ball to half court, but then Williamson swiped it away from Chris 
and went down for another uncontested lay-in. I called for the 
no-dribble play, where we pass it up the court and try to set up a shot 
on the perimeter. We got three clean passes, actually caught them 
slightly out of position, and I fired a shot from behind the 
three-point line. Trouble is, Green timed his leap and swatted the ball 
down as it went up. The ball caromed off my good leg and shot into the 
stands. I went down like a shot. The ref didn't buy it, but my leg was 
hurting. Turned out that he just bruised it, but I was on the bench for 
the rest of the game with an ice pack on my leg. They took the ball 
down the court and scored again, and the rout was on. Tech ended up 
shutting us out in the first half - yes, that's right, the entire first 
half - by the score of 36-0. We actually made a few baskets on their 
second stringers, but we never got within more than 40 points of them. 
The final score was 62-12. All 12 of our points came after halfway 
through the third period. 

We didn't recover from that game. Woodfield promptly beat us at home
that Saturday, and three days later we lost to Newsburg at Newsburg. On 
February 23, with four games to go in the season, Woodfield beat us 
again to put us squarely in last place in the conference. Marshall, who 
was having just as bad a season as we were, actually beat Newsburg at 
Newsburg to put us one game down for the final spot in the conference 
tournament. 

When we got back to the locker room, there was a note on the blackboard
by the coaches' office: "MANDATORY PRACTICE MONDAY, 11:00 PM." We all 
knew what it was about. 

The practice was on the first day of Spring Break, but no one seemed to
care much about being on vacation. We don't usually have many people at 
practice, but when word got around about the 11 o'clock practice, a lot 
of the more supportive students showed up beforehand - along with Tam 
and the varsity cheerleading squad. We ran through some drills, but 
everyone knew that the real reason why we were there so late was in the 
old Boys' Gym of Whitburn High School. He was playing intramural 
basketball on a Monday night, keeping himself in shape. Katie was 
assigned by Coach Mason to keep tabs on him that night. While we were 
going through the drills, we kept sneaking looks at the clock on the 
one end of the fieldhouse to see what time it was. Everyone was getting 
antsy, and just about five minutes before midnight, Coach Mason got out 
his cell phone and called over to the gym. 

He blew the whistle on practice, and called all the players over. He
told us that he wanted to show us something. He took out a duffel bag, 
unzipped it and pulled out a brand-new Whitburn jersey. It had the 
number 12 on it. We all knew who it was for. 

"There's this kid who wants to play for us," he told us. "I want to know
if we should let him play on our team or not. We have room on our team 
roster, so none of you have to demote to the JV for him to play." A 
smile came upon his lips. "Anyone have any objections?" We all started 
shaking our heads vigorously. "Then it's settled. He'll be coming over 
to join us any minute." 

Tam had already stationed herself over by the door of the fieldhouse,
looking up the hallway by the pool towards the main school. "He's 
coming!" she shouted out. Just then, the school bell rang to indicate 
it was now midnight. Jared came strolling into the fieldhouse, 
arm-in-arm with Katie and Tami. 

The kids let out a long cheer, then chanted, "Jared! Jared! JARED!"
Mason quieted them down for a moment, and then turned to Jared to hand 
him his new uniform. 

"Here you go, Mr. Thompson, you're on the team." Another spontaneous
eruption from the students. Mason quieted them down again. "Now, as it 
is, you're an hour late for practice. So after you go in there and 
change, you've got free throws to do." Jared shook his head as the kids 
in the stands cheered him out the door. 

For the next five minutes, the entire assembly started the chant, "WE
are WHIT-burn!" with the staccato claps. Jared emerged from the locker 
room with his fresh uni's and a great big smile on his face. Mason blew 
the whistle before the crowd could start up again. 

"Thompson! Go up to that line and give me 10 free-throws." Mason had a
team policy that, if you were late for practice, you would have to step 
up to the line and sink 10 free-throws. If you missed any of them 
before you sank the 10, that was how many laps you had to run around 
the court to make up for it. I remember one kid who missed 20 shots and 
only made five of the free throws. After he made the fifth one, coach 
just told him to go run laps until he told him to stop. The kid 
collapsed from exhaustion after about 15 laps. He quit the team the 
next day. 

Jared knew full well about this policy, and didn't flinch at all.
Instead, he calmly went to the line and proceeded to sink one 
free-throw after another. One after one, they went in like clockwork. 
He hit five in a row, then six, then seven, then eight. The ninth one 
bounced off the back of the rim, bounced straight in the air, and went 
swish right into the basket. Everyone had stopped to watch him do this. 
He then bounced the ball a couple of times, looked up, let out a 
breath, and sank the last free-throw. The crowd erupted as the ball hit 
the floor. The entire team went over to mob him. 

Mason was still in charge of the practice, however. He was smiling like
the Cheshire Cat, but he was still in charge. "Scrimmage!" he shouted 
out. "Jared, you're with White." Half of the guys went over to the 
bench and grabbed red vests and slipped them over their jerseys. It 
wasn't surprising that Davey, Chris and me were on the White team with 
Jared. Jared admitted he was a little tired from playing intramural 
ball that night, but he was energized when he saw all the students 
waiting for him in the fieldhouse. And Jared put on a show for them. 
Chris and I just kept feeding him passes, and he kept shooting away and 
made basket after basket. His "D" was tenacious, and when he swiped the 
ball away from sophomore guard Jason Wiemer, he took the ball down the 
court, launched himself and slammed the ball home with a two-hander. I 
knew he could do it, but it was the force with which he did it that 
energized the crowd. 

At that point, Mason knew he was beat. He whistled practice over, and
told everyone to be there tomorrow night for the game against St. 
George's. 

The electricity in the air was intense at the Fieldhouse. Everyone knew
this was it, the return of the Jared Thompson. And he did not 
disappoint. He rattled off 12 points in the first period, and we 
dominated against his old school, 94-28. He went for a team-high 42 
points, and even Gerrold came up to shake his hand after the game. The 
win put us back in a tie for the last tournament spot, but we'd have to 
win our last home game of the year to clinch the tiebreaker. We beat 
Marshall in our previous meeting, and if we lost to them, they would 
have the tiebreaker of most recent win. That didn't happen. Jared had 
another 40 points - in the first half. He sat out for the entire second 
half as we registered our first ever 100-point game in school history, 
107-53. Davey and Chris each had 20 points, and I added 18. We didn't 
even score in the last three minutes of the game, we were that far 
ahead. Coach Mason put everyone in, and even Wiemer (who had warmed the 
bench most of the season) managed to hit a trey for the 100th point of 
the game. 

The last game at St. George's was a tough one. Some of the people in
Thompsonville were still upset over Jared's tryst, and the students 
even tried rattling him when he was introduced by throwing condoms out 
onto the floor. Jared's response was to break the school record that he 
never got a chance to break at St. George's - he scored 51 points to 
lead the Panthers over the Crusaders, 98-58. Chris scored 20 behind 
Jared, and actually claimed the scoring title away from Davey for the 
season. He knew, however, who the real scoring leader of this team was. 


Jared felt vindicated after the game when Gerrold told a reporter for
WHIT that "Thompson is probably the greatest player ever to play in 
this fieldhouse. Bar none." 

The last win vaulted us into the tournament as the sixth seed. We would
have to go up against #3 Oxford Lakes in the quarterfinals, as the top 
two teams got a bye in the first round. The Lakers didn't have a chance 
against us, and we beat them soundly behind Jared's 38 and my 24. Two 
days later, we would play Woodfield in the semifinal game at Woodfield 
Athletic Center, immediately after the other semifinal between Newsburg 
and Shoreland. Newsburg handily defeated Shoreland, and we went into 
hostile territory against the Woodfield Eagles. 

Whitburn hadn't beaten Woodfield in basketball in about a decade at that
point. But Jared, Chris and Davey all had played Woodfield, and told 
Coach Mason that the way they beat them years ago could work again. He 
agreed, and emphasized to everyone on the team to let Jared and the St. 
George transfers to dictate the tempo of the game. 

What he didn't expect was how slow that tempo would be. Woodfield was
stubborn on not letting us get inside for any shots, and they were 
guarding close to deny the trey. We won the opening tip-off, but 
couldn't work it inside for the entire first period. Davey and Chris 
took a couple of shots, but they missed and either Jared or I grabbed 
the rebound and shot it back out to reset the play. The last shot of 
the period we took missed, and the score was still tied at nothing 
after eight minutes of play. 

The Woodfield fans weren't too happy about our stalling, but  Eagles'
coach Rod Maryland was getting more and more upset at his charges. 
Neither team had any fouls, so Jared just suggested, "Let's let them 
get into foul trouble. Maryland's gonna try to press us, we just draw 
fouls and then kill them with free throws." 

We went out to start the second period with Woodfield getting the ball
on the alternating possession rule. They took the ball down the court, 
set up for a three on the outside with a screen that left Jose Gonzalez 
(Miguel's brother) wide open. He put the shot up - and missed. Jared 
came down with the rebound, and tried to wait for the Eagles to clear 
out defensively. Instead, three of the Woodfield players surrounded 
Jared and reached in. The ref blew the whistle for the foul, and moved 
the ball to mid-court. Davey got the ball, wedged it in past the 
Woodfield defender to Jared, who turned around and whack! Another foul. 
Jared shot a look at the Woodfield bench at Coach Maryland. Then he 
glanced over to Coach Mason, who just motioned with his hands to settle 
down. 

Jared looked at me, pointed to the sideline with two fingers, and
nodded. I knew exactly what he wanted to do. He slipped back to the 
opposite sideline, waited, then slashed to the basket and leaped. I 
launched the perfect alley-oop pass to the basket, and he grabbed it 
and slammed it down. The Whitburn fans went wild. 

The Eagles tried to in-bound, and Jared went right after the ball
carrier. He got whistled for the foul, and this time it was Woodfield's 
turn to get the ball from center court. The pass was tipped in the air 
by Davey, but the Eagles recovered the ball. They didn't rush things, 
taking a page from our book. However, after two attempts at screening 
out for a three and missing, Gonzalez had enough. The third time, he 
took the screen and drove towards the baseline and shot. The ball 
banked in off the glass, and Woodfield was on the board. We'd managed 
to keep them scoreless for nearly 12 minutes, though. Jared took the 
in-bound pass from Davey and was immediately set upon by two Eagle 
defenders. Another foul, another possession at half-court. Davey tossed 
the in-bound pass to me this time, and I went to pass to Jared. 
Gonzalez took off and intercepted it, ran down the court and went in 
for the uncontested lay-up. 

Except for one thing - he missed the lay-up. The ball went clanging off
the back of the rim and back into my waiting hands. I grabbed the ball, 
turned and fired a baseball pass to Jared. Gonzalez was scrambling to 
get back to our side of the court, but I picked him up. Jared drove the 
lane, shot and drew the foul - as the ball drained the net. 

Jared calmly went to the line and sank the free throw to make it 5-2
with less than four minutes left in the half. Woodfield went down the 
court, worked it in and Gonzalez sent up a 15-foot jumper to pull the 
Eagles within one. 

Predictably, the Eagles fouled us on the in-bound pass for the fifth
team foul. That was the last foul they had to give. We got the ball at 
mid-court again, and Davey set up the rotation to Jared. Jared backed 
the ball in, and we set up to stall. They went back into a 2-3 zone, 
and tried to keep us from launching a three. Jared was patient. He knew 
that we still had the one point lead. We did the stop-and-handoff play 
a few times, getting the clock down to about a minute to go. The 
Woodfield fans were booing us unmercifully. 

Then, suddenly, with about 45 seconds to go, Maryland yelled out,
"Amoebae!" Suddenly, every Woodfield player pulled back from their 
position towards the middle. Jared looked at me for a second, set up 
and fired a three from the top of key. The ball swooshed through the 
net, and we were up 8-4. On the in-bound play, Davey went after the 
ball and hacked the Eagle player. Second team foul. We pressed them on 
the in-bounds, and Woodfield Junior Tim Waterson had to call a time-out 
before the five-second rule was called. 

There were 39 seconds left on the clock. Coach Mason just said one thing
in our huddle - "Zone." We broke the huddle and went back out on the 
court. We laid off the in-bound pass, set back in the zone, and kept 
them away from the basket. They worked it around, tried to set up for a 
clear-out, but couldn't do it. As the seconds ticked down, Gonzalez 
tried a last-second drive to the basket, but got called for the charge 
on Davey. It was the Eagles' sixth team foul, and we were in the bonus 
with five seconds left. What was worse for Woodfield was that it was 
Gonzalez's third personal foul. 

Davey went down to the free throw line, and sank both free-throws to
make it 10-4. Waterson lobbed a pass down court to Gonzalez, who took a 
last-second off-balance shot that bounced wildly off the backboard at 
the buzzer. 

We got the ball back for the third period, and it was more of the same.
They had five fresh fouls to use, and they used them quickly. All five 
of their starters had at least two fouls three minutes into the third 
period. And we still hadn't taken a shot in the half. After the fifth 
foul, Maryland called time-out, then put three of his bench players out 
on the floor. Jared smiled when he saw these three guys. So did Davey 
and Chris. I looked at Jared, sort of puzzled. He mouthed to me, 
"Jay-Vee!" and put up three fingers and two fingers. It suddenly dawned 
on me - these were the JV guys he and St. George's JV had beaten badly 
two years ago. Jared made some hand signals to Davey and Chris, and 
Chris in-bounded the ball to Jared. Chris immediately switched over to 
the opposite side, where Davey had been. Both took their defenders with 
them, and Jared drove the crease that opened up. Easy lay-in, 12-4. 

Maryland started pointing around like a madman. Waterson in-bounded to
one of the "JV" players, and Jared just slapped the ball cleanly out of 
his hands and turned and laid the ball in. 14-4. We all came up, 
following Jared's lead, and pressed the Whitburn bench players as hard 
as we could. I got in the face of one of them, and got called for the 
reach. We kept pressing on the in-bounds play at half-court, and one of 
the bench players, a tall skinny kid, dribbled the ball off his foot 
and out of bounds. We took over possession, and brought the ball in 
uncontested. I gave the ball to Jared, and he dribbled around over to 
the right. Davey then came up, got the ball from Jared, and executed 
the perfect give-and-go. Jared laid it in to put us up by a dozen. 

That was it for Maryland. He put Gonzalez back in, along with their
Senior point guard, Gary Kriesz. That didn't help them much. They 
couldn't work it in, and Gonzalez got frustrated and tried to elbow his 
way in to the basket. The ref called the foul, and the recipient, 
Chris, went to the line. He sank both to put us up, 18-4. Maryland sent 
in the rest of his starters (Marty Mathews and Abdul Muhammad), but we 
were ready for them. We dropped back, and Jared even struck a "bring it 
on" pose, beckoning the ball carrier to come down the court. They 
worked it around, launched a three and finally scored their first 
points of the half. 

We had confidence on our side, though. Davey brought the ball up the
court with purpose, then passed it over to Chris. Chris dribbled, 
worked it in a bit, then passed it to me. I worked it around to Mike 
Martino, our "big man" in the middle. He made a perfect pass to Jared 
in the clear, who let loose with a trey - and made it. 21-7, Panthers. 
They scored once more, and Jared sank another trey before the period 
was over, making it 24-9 through three periods. 

Woodfield got the ball on the alternating possession rule to start the
period. Waterson made the in-bound pass to Gonzalez, who took it up the 
court. And that was when things blew up for Woodfield. Gonzalez went up 
for the shot and was called for a rather obvious elbow to the face of 
Mike. The ball went in, and when the ref waved off the basket, Gonzalez 
went absolutely freaking nuts. Mike was on the floor, holding his nose, 
while Maryland was trying to restrain Gonzalez. After a while, the ref 
had enough and slapped the "T" for technical on Gonzalez. It was his 
sixth, so he was gone, regardless. Two assistant coaches had to nearly 
drag Gonzalez off to the locker rooms. Coach Mason called a time out, 
and our trainer and some EMT's from Woodfield Rescue Services worked on 
Martino. Mike got up, with blood droplets on his jersey, and managed to 
walk dazedly back to the bench. The EMT's walked him over to the side 
door where the ambulance was waiting, and they took him to the 
hospital. 

The rest of the game wasn't pretty. Jared took all four free throws for
Mike, and sank all four to make it 28-9. We exchanged possessions and 
baskets, and when the buzzer sounded, the final was 42-21. Jared had 30 
points, he dished off four assists in the final period to get Chris, 
Davey and me all up to four points each. 

The best thing was, we were heading for the conference finals against
Newsburg. 

The finals were a dénouement (that's one of those big words I got from
Katie) for us, of sorts. We came out gunning against Newsburg, and won 
it handily, 56-38. Jared didn't play the last six minutes, since we 
were up by 18. We were awarded the conference trophy, cut down the nets 
and had a healthy post-game celebration over at Jared's place. Best 
thing of all was that Mike's broken nose was healing properly. He'd be 
ready to play in the State Tournament (even though we started calling 
him "Jason" for his protective mask). 

Then we found out who we'd be playing in the first round of the tourney:
Lakeside Washington. They were undefeated on the season, a perfect 24-0 
on the season. They also hadn't lost a single game by less than eight 
points all season. We were ranked as the number eight seed in the 
tournament, and thus drew the number one seed in the first round. 
Unlike the ISAA Tournament, the HSAA didn't re-seed pairings after each 
round. Instead, the winner of 1 vs. 8 played the winner of 4 vs. 5, 
while the winner of 2 vs. 7 played the winner of 3 vs. 6. 

Lakeside had a lot of decent players, but the scary guy was Conrad
Horton. He was already an All-American player, and he had a scholarship 
to go to North Carolina to play for Dean Smith. Horton was the one who 
just dazzled everyone. When we went down to Morgantown for the 
tournament, the State Journal listed him as one of the top three 
players in the state. The other two were Morgantown West's Barry Thomas 
and Jared's old foe, Riverton North's Mitch Jordan. Not a word was said 
about Jared. 

The tempo of the game was set from the opening tip. We got the ball, and
Jared took the ball in. Horton guarded Jared closely, but didn't really 
see him as much of a threat. Jared gave him a head-fake, juked and 
drove and sank the lay-in. Horton took the ball down the court, and did 
the exact same thing. This went on for most of the rest of the game: 
the rest of us touching the ball momentarily, then Jared and Horton 
going into their game of one-on-one. The score was tied at 16 after 
one, then 24 after two, then 40 after three. All of the points came 
from the two of them. 

Before the fourth quarter, Jared pulled me, Chris and Davey aside. "I
don't know if he's got much of a supporting cast," he told us. "I'm 
going to try to work the ball to you guys, then clear him out. See if 
you can get around the others." 

Washington took the in-bound for the fourth quarter. Horton brought it
down, and instead of finding Jared on him, I was guarding him. He 
half-sneered at me, and promptly drove the basket. Jared planted 
himself at the side, and Horton didn't see him. Wham! The two of them 
went crashing into the Whitburn cheerleaders behind the basket. Tami 
managed to catch Jared, but Horton went barreling into the post of the 
basket. He stepped back, woozy for a moment, then turned around to see 
the ref pointing at him. 

He then walked over to the bench, apparently groggy from the encounter
with Jared. The coach hastily called a time out, then grabbed Horton by 
the shoulder to try to ask him why he was leaving the game. That was 
when he passed out, right into the arms of his coach. 

After that, we lit up the rest of the Washington squad. We ran off a
dozen unanswered points before Washington could even realize what 
happened. They managed to get Horton back to his senses, but he didn't 
have the same effect when he went back in. He managed to get off a 
jumper to get back within 10 points, but then we went on another tear. 
We scored 10 more unanswered points, without Jared taking a single 
shot. After we took a 62-42 lead, Jared signaled for time and took 
himself out of the game. Horton seemed to think it was going to be his 
time to take the game over, but Chris, Davey and me put on a clinic, 
scoring another dozen points. The final score was 74-44. Horton had 
scored all 44 of his team's points. Jared also scored 44 - but it was 
the rest of us who beat Lakeside Washington. 

Afterwards, it was discovered that Horton had a mild concussion from the
collision with the basket, and couldn't concentrate for the rest of the 
game. The concussion was what eventually led to him losing his 
scholarship at UNC. He apparently developed double vision, and couldn't 
tell which basket to shoot at. 

Morgantown West had won their quarterfinal game against Marbury Central,
and it looked like it was another case of one great player (Barry 
Thomas) and 11 other guys. Jared tested that theory early instead of 
late in this contest, and it became painfully obvious that Thomas was 
the only offense Morgantown West had. Though the partisan crowds at MSU 
Fieldhouse were vocal, Thomas couldn't shake Jared's tenacious defense. 
He limited Thomas to only 12 first half points, while we lit up the 
rest of the West squad for 24. Jared was working so hard at containing 
Thomas that midway through the third period, he only had 10 points. 
Thomas, however, was stuck at a dozen, and would get only four more. 
The rest of the West squad only had four points, while Chris, Davey and 
me poured it on. With a minute to go, we were up 50-24. Coach Mason sat 
all of us down and put in the reserves. The reserves promptly scored 
four times in the last minute to give us a 58-24 win. Jason Wiemer 
scored twice, including the last bucket on a steal of - amazingly - 
Barry Thomas. 

We went nuts when the horn sounded. We were going to be the first
Whitburn High team to play for the state title in basketball in school 
history. What's more, we were going to be going up against Riverton 
North - and Jared had a scored to settle with Mitch Jordan. 

The joy of victory wasn't going to last long, though. 

The Morgantown State Journal was the first to publish the information
about Jared's "expulsion" from St. George's. They even found out that 
Tami was "still" on the Whitburn cheerleading squad. They had the photo 
of when Jared had fallen into the crowd after colliding with Horton, 
and noted that "the girl who was apparently involved in the incident 
causing his expulsion was the one who caught him." 

As soon as Jared heard about this, he gave a copy of the Journal to his
Uncle Jerry. Mr. Thompson proceeded to call up the paper and inform 
them that they were being sued in Whitburn County court for libel 
against a minor. 

The revival of the whole incident turned a time that should have been
special into one of anger. Phone calls to Tami and Katie's house were 
coming from various papers who wanted to confirm the story. Some TV 
reporters, including this Geraldo Rivera-like creature from Riverton's 
WRTN-TV who tried to "ambush" Tami as she was leaving for Morgantown 
for the championship. 

Jared and I managed to find a few quiet moments in our hotel room in
Morgantown. Coach Mason and my dad had arranged that we'd be alone, 
away from the throngs of reporters and other people who wanted to grill 
Jared. 

We talked for a long time. He told me that he was going to propose to
Tami at the graduation ceremony in June. I laughed. "How romantic," I 
told him. "After all of this grief." 

"Hey, why not," he told me. "She's stuck with me through this, the rest
of our lives should be a cinch." 

I started this whole story by saying that things just happened the way
they did, and that I never planned for things to wind up the way they 
did. Well, I never planned that we'd be in the state finals. I didn't 
plan that we'd win it on a last-second buzzer-beater shot over Riverton 
North. 

I didn't even plan on taking that shot. 

I also didn't plan on Jared not being on the court with me when I took
the shot. Jared had fouled out of the game moments before, which led to 
Riverton taking the lead with four seconds left. Jordan had contained 
Jared pretty well, but Jared had taken Mitch off his game at the same 
time. The game was close, and when Davey lobbed the pass down the court 
to me, I just tried to get a clear shot away. 

It went in. 

I still have that photo today, showing me lofting the ball towards the
hoop, looking for all the world like Greg Louganis about to do a 
jack-knife dive for double difficulty. 

I remember landing on the floor, seeing the ball go in, raising my arms
in triumph, and being mauled by the entire team. I remember having one 
of the nets draped around my neck like a scarf, and squeezing Jared 
hard while our pep band kept playing the school song. 

All these years later, the framed photo of the team around the trophy
hangs in my office. The kids look at the photo, and usually make some 
comment about how goofy I looked. But then, when they step outside the 
PhysEd office and the boys' locker room and look at the Whitburn High 
School trophy case, they see the State Boys' Basketball Championship 
trophy sitting there, large as ever. 

And I can tell they are really in awe. 

A voice behind me brings me back down to earth: 

"Ah, Mertzen, I'd have made that shot if Jordan hadn't been in my
jockstrap all day." 

And I turn to laugh at the snide remark of my boss, the head coach at
Whitburn High School. 

"Yeah, Jared, but don't forget that I took that shot - and made it." 

"Bet you a soda I can take you in one-on one," he says. I laugh again. 

"You're on." And we both jog into the fieldhouse for another game of
impromptu hoops. 

Just like old times. Just like it's always been. 


   


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