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A sporting chance.

Eighteen-year-old Ryan Belflower's participation in Clovis (California) East High's Senior Night basketball game on February 16--the last home game of the season--was a triumph of persistence in the face of severe challenges. Ryan started talking later in childhood than most youngsters, and because of limited communications skills, he remained extremely shy.

The special education student often shot baskets with his older brother, Justin, and became a proficient shooter. However, his small five-foot, six-inch frame and difficulty in understanding the strategy required for a fast-paced team sport like basketball seemed to exclude him from playing the game competitively.

Ryan's love of the game prompted him to become part of the sport by a rather circuitous route. In ninth grade, he volunteered to be a manager of the girls' basketball team, performing whatever tasks needed to be done for two seasons. Encouraged by that effort, he performed a similar function for the football team. But his first love remained basketball. He convinced the boys coach, Tim Amundsen, to let him become a team manager, responsible for running the time clock, filling water bottles, getting balls, videotaping games. However, he also worked out with the team and received a team uniform, the same as any other player. The coach even put him into a few games during the last quarter.

"He's everything I want to represent Clovis East basketball," Amundsen told the Fresno Bee concerning Ryan's dedication and persistence.

With only four minutes to play in the fourth quarter on Senior Night, Clovis East had a 26-point lead over rival Buchanan High. It was then that a group of students started a chant that would be picked up by almost everyone attending the game: "We want Ryno. We want Ryno."

Coach Amundsen, who had only hesitated out of concern for Ryan's safety, sent Ryan into the game, which prompted an immediate thunder of cheers. In the stands, Ryan's mother and brother swelled with pride. "If you had said four years ago he'd play in a varsity basketball game, I'd say stop lying because it will never happen," Ryan's brother, Justin, was quoted as saying in an AP report.

The crowd began chanting: "Give Ryan the ball. Give Ryan the ball." And Ryan's teammates did their best to comply. His first shot, however, missed the basket.

Realizing what was going on, the Buchanan players decided to help out the dedicated player from Clovis East. When Ryan next had the ball, a Buchanan player intentionally fouled him, setting him up for a free throw. His shot unfortunately missed.

With time running out, Ryan got the ball one last time and shot from beyond the three-point line to the left of the key. There was silence in the gym as the ball arced toward the basket and swished through the net!

The celebration was loud and joyous and his teammates hoisted Ryan to their shoulders. "I've never seen anything like it before and I probably never will," Amundsen said. "He'll be my example the rest of my life as a coach."

On one night in Clovis, California, two rival teams and an amazing player demonstrated what the spirit of sportsmanship is all about.
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Article Details
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Author:Mass, Warren
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 25, 2005
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