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Post date: Dec 21, 2010 4:23:54 AM

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Updated: February 18, 2:49 PM ET

Team's gesture supports grieving opponent

ESPN.com news services

Two missed free throws, ordinarily the cause of a coach's

headache, became the symbol of sportsmanship in a Milwaukee boys'

basketball game earlier this month.

Milwaukee Madison senior Johntell Franklin, who lost his mother,

Carlitha, to cancer on Saturday, Feb. 7, decided he wanted to play in

that night's game against DeKalb (Ill.) High School after previously

indicating he would sit out.

He arrived at the gym in the second quarter, but Franklin's

name was not in the scorebook because his coach, Aaron Womack Jr.,

didn't expect him to be there.

Rules dictated Womack would have to be assessed a technical, but he was

prepared to put Franklin in the game anyway. DeKalb coach Dave Rohlman

and his players knew of the situation, and told the referees they did

not want the call.


The referees had no choice. But Rohlman did.

"I gathered my kids and said, 'Who wants to take these free throws?'"

Rohlman said, recounting the game to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"Darius McNeal put up his hand. I said, 'You realize you're going to

miss, right?' He nodded his head."

McNeal, a senior point guard, went to the line. The Milwaukee Madison

players stayed by their bench, waiting for the free throws. Instead of

seeing the ball go through the net, they saw the ball on the court,

rolling over the end line.

"I turned around and saw the ref pick up the ball and hand it back to

the player," Womack said in the Journal Sentinel. "And then [McNeal]

did the same thing again."

Said Rohlman: "Darius set up for a regular free throw, but he only shot

it two or three feet in front of him. It bounced once or twice and just

rolled past the basket."

"I did it for the guy who lost his mom," McNeal told the newspaper. "It was the right thing to do."

Womack, overwhelmed by DeKalb's gesture, wrote a letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, which had first reported the story.

"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," Womack wrote.

DeKalb had traveled more than two hours for the game, and waited

another two as Womack rushed from the hospital, where he had been with

Franklin, to the school to gather his team.

"We were sympathetic to the circumstances and the events," Rohlman said

in the Journal Sentinel. "We even told Coach Womack that it'd be OK to

call off the game, but he said we had driven 2½ hours to get here and

the kids wanted to play. So we said, 'Spend some time with your team

and come out when you're ready.'"

The two schools had met twice previously, and this one ended with a

Madison victory, but as in the other games, they also shared a pizza

dinner, "four kids to a pizza, two Madison kids and two DeKalb kids,"

Womack told the Journal Sentinel.

"That letter became a big deal in DeKalb," Rohlman said in the paper.

"We got lots of positive calls and e-mails because of it. Even though

we lost the game, it was a true life lesson, and it's not one our kids

are going to forget anytime soon."

Womack, in his letter to the DeKalb Daily Chronicle, added this at the

end: "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]."