Once upon a time, I was the sports editor of a newspaper that covered five local high schools, as well as an assortment of area college and professional sports.
But I have to say my favorite part of the job was covering high school sports. For one thing, the kids are out there, hustling and giving it their all, not for a fat paycheck or the next endorsement deal nor, for most, even the hope of ever having one.
But more than that, I loved covering high school sports because whenever you thought you had “seen it all,” the kids would show you something new — something totally unexpected and at the same time extraordinary.
Friday morning, as I was waiting for the Daily News to start churning off the press, I happened upon a highlight video for one Zack Hodskins, a 6-2 junior point guard from Milton High School in Georgia. Word has it Alabama is already thinking about offering him a scholarship to play basktball for the Crimson Tide in two years’ time.
And, judging from the highlight reel put together by Zack’s AAU coaches, it’s not hard to understand why. He’s not only competing against some of the best recruits in the country, but schooling them every once in a while, too.
So what, right?
Well, if he’s given that scholarship, it will certainly be a “first” for NCAA Division I men’s basketball. You see, Zack was born minus about half of his left arm, from about the middle of his forearm to where the tips of his fingers should be.
That’s right. He plays the game of basketball with one hand. Not only does he play it, but he excels at it. Not quite to the Harrison Barnes level, but certainly good enough that he’d be a one-man wrecking crew against most of the cage squads in Iowa.
It reminded me in a way of another special basketball player I once watched back in my days as a sports editor.
Our “bread and butter” school’s freshman team was about to go undefeated on the season, so I went to its last home game to get photos for a feature story. My schedule for the evening was actually fairly empty, so I stuck around for the whole game.
And I’m really glad I did.
Among the players on that nearly undefeated team was a young man who had only known illness and long stays in hospitals for the majority of his life. As a result of his condition, he had steel rods inserted into his legs a couple years earlier, which meant he really couldn’t do the aggressive, hard-running, up-and-down rigors of competitive basketball.
But he wanted to play the game. So, he did. And happily sat on the bench through all of those games, only touching the ball in a game when it went hurtling out of bounds in his general direction.
Until that last game, that is.
With the game well in hand, he took the court for the final four minutes of the game. He touched the ball a total of eight times.
Almost immediately, he got a rebound under the basket and took a shot. He missed; the other team recovered and hustled back down the court.
He rebounded six more times and attempted six more shots. Each time, he missed. But on the seventh rebound, he tossed the ball up, and in a fashion only Hollywood could dream up, the ball rolled around the rim.
Once, twice, three times — and then it fell through. Judging from the cheers, you’d have thought the varsity team had just won the state title.
Afterward, as he was being congratulated by his teammates, the players from the other team came over. Not only did they congratulate him, but they gave him some hugs for good measure.
Sportsmanship. That’s what I love most about Iowa high school sports.
Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at email@example.com via email.