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The Final 7 Minutes - By Tim Gruber

The game was like every other one up to this point in the season… another defeat at the hands of a far superior team. At the conclusion of the third quarter it was apparent that the Bobcat players had had enough. They approached the huddle between the 3rd and 4th quarters with slumped shoulders, heads down, angst on their faces and for all intents and purposes - personifying the look of defeat.

Little did they know that a young boy with Down syndrome, a boy who had cheered for two seasons without ever touching the court during a real game was about to enter for the 4th and final quarter. As each player put their hands in to say the "go Bobcats" cheer before walking back to play the final period - the thirty-six point deficit was no longer on their minds. You could see it in their countenance as they strolled back to midcourt with smiling faces and heads held high. As each player made their way to their defensive assignments you could hear the rumble from the crowd who realized that Brandon was moments away from playing in his first official junior high basketball game. The parents, players and coaches had no idea what was about to take place but somehow each knew something magical was about to unfold.

After trading baskets back and forth it became apparent that the Bobcats were working hard to get Brandon a couple shots at the basket. Brandon was on the right side of the court, 10-12 feet away from the basket when he got his first two shots. Both rolled around the rim and out. Each time the ball went up, the collective gasp from all involved took the air out of the gymnasium. You could see the Bobcats playing splendidly and the teams best player was giving subtle instructions to Brandon so he lined up correctly on defense and primed himself for offense. Then it happened with a little under 4-minutes left to play. Brandon slid off a screen about 10 feet from the basket in the right corner - received a perfect pass and without delay squared up and hit nothing-but-net. From this point on the entire event took on a surreal feeling that lasted well into the next day. Brandon, recognizing that his shot went through turned and jumped two feet into the air pumping his fists excitedly. Players and coaches on both teams wore ear-to-ear smiles and the game officials were so caught up in the moment they went up to Brandon and gave him a couple high-fives.

There were no more than 200 fans in attendance that night but the screams, clapping and exuberance sounded as though thousands were there to celebrate this crowning moment in Bobcat basketball. Brandon went on to score another basket from the same spot, as well as dish out two assists and grab one rebound. All told, he scored 4-points in a game that his team lost by over 30 points to a superior opponent. To all who were there, the loss was quickly forgotten and placed gently into a repository never to be retrieved.

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We have all heard tales about game winning shots and last second goals where teams coalesced and became one - turning losing seasons into winning campaigns. Rarer is the story where a team loses and everyone in the gymnasium walks away forever changed. Changed by one shot in a meaningless game that less than 200 people attended. The change that occurred had little to do with basketball in the end. The change that resulted from one young boys' opportunity to be part of a team and give his all - transcended sport and transformed lives by bringing everyone together in celebration. The Bobcats would go on to win their next two games of the season and conclude their campaign. Those who watched what happened on that cool March evening in Brentwood, California know for certain that evening provided the catalyst for the following wins. As Brandon 's dad, and as a former All America athlete in college, I have witnessed some incredible feats. What is new to me in the athletic realm, is how sport can change lives in a lasting, talked-about, community sort of way by simply allowing those who are a little different to participate.

This back-street anecdotal story about a team and one of its players, is not one that is familiar to most of us because it simply doesn't happen with any sort of frequency. Like many other places, Brentwood is a community in need of hope and by the grace of a coach who cared and taught, by players who embraced the idea, and a crowd that exalted and cheered - hope became possible. And, because of this newfound inspiration - winning and losing were put into a more proper perspective... because the lesson learned on that night in Brentwood, California made both meaningless in the grander scheme.

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