High School Basketball Teams Bring Sportsmanship to Life

Fierce rival misses foul shots in gesture of friendship and support.

ByABC News
February 20, 2009, 12:56 PM

MILWAUKEE, Feb. 20, 2009— -- For the Milwaukee Madison Knights, fired up to host its arch rival from DeKalb, Ill., this would be no ordinary game.

"It's kind of like an Illinois-Wisconsin type of rivalry. Packers-Bears," said Aaron Womack Jr., head coach of the Knights.

But the night of the big game, Madison's co-captain --18-year-old senior Johntell Franklin -- was missing. His mother, who was suffering from cancer, had taken a sudden turn that Saturday, Feb. 7. At the hospital, Franklin was by his mother's side as she died.

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"It was shocking. I couldn't believe that my mom was gone," Franklin said. "She just gave me a look, like 'keep your head up, everything will be all right.'"

That night, Franklin needed his friends. The game was well under way when he arrived at the gym, shaken but still determined to play. Franklin said that his mom would have wanted it that way.

"When he came with that uniform on, there was like a hush over the crowd," Womack said. "I almost had to call a time-out to wipe some tears away."

But Womack, assuming Franklin wouldn't make it to the game -- let alone play -- hadn't put him on the active roster. Sending Franklin in the game to compete would mean an automatic technical foul for the Knights, giving the DeKalb Barbs two uncontested free throws in a close game.

DeKalb's coach told the head official not to bother with the foul, given the circumstances.

"I expressed to him that we should not be shooting the technical -- that we did not want one," DeKalb's coach David Rohlman said.

The referees would not budge. Extenuating circumstances or not, they said, the rules are the rules: technical foul for the Milwaukee Madison Knights. But what happened next was truly remarkable.

Darius McNeal, DeKalb's junior guard, volunteered to take the free throws. His coach took him aside.

"I turned to him, and I said, 'Now, you understand that we are going to purposefully miss these free throws,'" Rohlman told McNeal. "And he nodded in agreement. We were both on the same page."