First, you had the “Rockabilly Smack You Silly Chicken Chili.” Then, there was “Salato’s Garlicky Potato and Roasted Tomato Soup.” Finally, I brought the “Classic Chicken Noodle Soup with ‘Tis the Season’ Spices.” Those were the three soups I created to win Franklin Road Academy’s First Annual “Souper Bowl,” presented by the Heart to Heart Program. However, this story is not the “Souper Bowl,” and it’s certainly not about me. Let me explain.
Franklin Road Academy (FRA), where I work as a French teacher and a basketball coach, is a special place. It is special for many reasons, but my favorite thing that makes the school unique is the way that we celebrate each other’s differences. Exhibit A: The Heart To Heart Program. This program, led by David Dawson, offers the full educational opportunity of FRA to students with Down syndrome. Yes, the full experience. This includes inclusion in academic classes and extracurricular activities.
Through my role as assistant varsity basketball coach, I have gotten to know one of the Heart to Heart students very well. Enter Robert Lewis. Robert is an amazing young man who has served as a manager on a variety of FRA sports teams, and he is every team’s biggest fan. As he found out on Friday night, everyone feels the same way about Robert.
On Friday, February 5, it was Senior Night for our basketball team. A common tradition on Senior Night is to start all of your seniors, and if you have a senior manager, you let them dress out in full Panther regalia. Per the protocol, Coach John Pierce, FRA head boys’ basketball coach and college basketball’s all-time leading scorer (but again, this story is not about him either), explained to the five seniors that they would be starting. This came as a shock to no one. Likewise, Coach Pierce told both managers, Joshua Larkin (who, in fairness, has become more like an assistant coach) and Robert “Money” Lewis, that they would be dressing out for the varsity game. There were no guarantees of playing time, but they would be given a uniform.
After practice on Thursday, “Coach” Joshua Larkin told Coach Pierce, “If only one of us can get into the game, I want it to be Robert.” The first, but not the last, instance of #OBY, a hashtag that has overtaken the FRA community, which stands for “Others Before Yourself.” Likewise, sophomore Kendall Bell, who has been dressing out for varsity games, gave up his uniform so that Robert and Joshua could both dress out for the varsity game. #OBY. When we were lacking one pair of red shoelaces (yes, this was also a “Red Out” for the American Heart Association), the boys made sure that Robert had a pair. #OBY. When senior Kenny Cooper was presented with the honor of being FRA’s all-time leading scorer at halftime of the game, he asked me, “Coach, do I have to go out there? Can’t I just go to the locker room with my team?” #OBY.
Amidst the hoopla of Senior Night, the “Red Out,” and the 1,000-Point-Club recognition, there was also a basketball game to be played. By the middle of the first quarter, it was clear that the Panthers were ready to play. Senior Spence Jones assisted fellow senior George Somers on the first bucket of the game, and mere minutes later, a Kenny Cooper dunk extended the early lead to 16-3. When asked later about their early energy, a senior responded, “It was important to us to get Joshua and Robert into the game.” #OBY.
By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Panthers had a comfortable lead. The decision of whether to put Joshua and Robert in the game rested in the hands of Coach Pierce. With 1:40 left in the game, Joshua Larkin entered the game. And finally, amid chants of “Money Robert,” with 1:10 left to play, two fan favorites, George Somers and Robert Lewis entered the game as well. At this time, their opponent, University School of Nashville (USN), countered with an equally special substitution. Matthew Lewis, Robert’s younger brother, came into the game for USN. It was, as Twitter later proclaimed via hashtag, #BrotherGuardingBrother.
On FRA’s first possession, Robert took a shot from the corner. The crowd held their collective breath…an air ball. Despite the result, the crowd clapped in support. It was still a special moment, even if Robert didn’t score. After a USN three-pointer, FRA got the ball back with under twenty seconds to play. It was clear that this would be their last possession. Some players and fans were yelling, “Get the ball to Joshua!” Others were yelling, “Get the ball to Robert!” In a move seen by few, Joshua Larkin, on the wing, pointed and gestured for Kyle Crudele, the point guard, to dribble towards Robert. Another example of #OBY. Crudele did, and he passed the ball to George Somers, who shoveled the ball to Robert Lewis, in the corner again. What happened next was pure magic…
Robert took the final shot of the game, and as it left his hands, it looked good…
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Tansil)
Just look at the fans. Some were filming. Some were praying. Others were preparing the possible celebration.
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Tansil)
Could it be? Could this moment really happen?
(Photo Courtesy of Kelly Tansil)
The bench and the stands couldn’t even contain their emotion. Look at those faces!
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Tansil)
And as the buzzer sounded, the fans rushed the court. The players hoisted Robert on their shoulders. And you would think that the story ends there…
But no, as we ran off of the court to the locker room, Robert turned around. He started running back to the gym. When I asked him, “Robert, what’s wrong?” He said, “Coach, I forgot the water bottles.” Yes, another example of #OBY. Before he could enter the gym, however, he ran into the arms of a freshman basketball player, who said, “Here, Robert, I got the water bottles for you.” Wow. #OBY.
So, as I conclude this storybook tale, let me go back to the “Souper Bowl.” I listed the three soups that I created to win the “Souper Bowl,” a competition created by Robert Lewis, along with Milkshake Madness, where members of the Heart to Heart Program and their coaches create their best soup/milkshake and list them on the whiteboard. All soups/milkshakes are judged by H2H director, David Dawson, like a slam dunk contest. In the final round, I defeated Robert Lewis. He still called it one of the most exciting moments he could remember. I think that he might have a new most exciting moment.
So, in conclusion, this story isn’t about me, and if you asked Robert Lewis, it’s not even about him. It’s about a special team (and a special school) who practice what we preach, #OBY (Others Before Yourself). Exhibit Z: Robert’s post-game speech. He ended our time together on Friday night by saying, “I know I hit a three, and that was awesome. But I’m just really glad we won the game.” #OBY.
If my words don’t do his story justice and if you have three minutes, it will be well worth your time to watch Jeffrey Malkofsky-Berger’s (a USN graduate) excellent video documenting the night: