JACKSON TWP. It was a moment that might otherwise have passed by unnoticed.
The game, once positioned as a possible Federal League championship-deciding contest, ended up as a double-digit win for a Jackson team that had already clinched the title in its previous game.
With the home team leading by 18 points with about five minutes remaining, during a scramble on the court, Jackson senior forward Sam Shew went down in a heap, staying on the floor as the action moved to the other end of the court.
As he laid on the court, Shew found himself face to face with something - or more specifically someone - unexpected.
“Obviously I was in some pain, but I just felt someone put a hand on my shoulder and asked if I was all right,” Shew said. “I didn’t recognize the voice and I was kind of confused at first, but then I saw it was (Lake) coach (Tom) McBride. I’ve known his son Joey for a while because we played AAU ball together, and it really uplifted my spirits quite a bit, seeing support from opposing team’s coach and it felt a little bit bigger than just the score of a game.”
For McBride, the decision to go out onto the court and offer a helping hand to an opposing player in a game his team was losing by 18 points was a simple one. The Federal League has its sportsmanship statement, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s sportsmanship announcement is made prior to each game and with a chance to follow those ideas, the veteran coach did what he saw as the right thing.
“Sam Shew was right in front of us, maybe six or seven feet in front of our bench, and when he went down, I thought it might be a knee injury or ACL,” McBride said. “Play was at the other end and I was surprised the whistle didn’t blow. I went out, put my arm around him and helped him get up ... it just came naturally.”
Shew admitted he wasn’t expecting a helping hand from an opposing coach and near the end of a big game when tensions were high, he admitted it was “a cool experience” to see sportsmanship on display. Having had serious leg injuries before, he knew that this injury wasn’t catastrophic, but getting assistance from McBride was still welcome.
An image of McBride and Jackson head coach Tim Debevec helping Shew off the court, one coach on either side, quickly made the rounds on social media. McBride heard from staff and students at school in the following days as they saw the photo and commented on what it was like to see a coach help a rival player.
The injury turned out to be an ankle sprain that knocked Shew out of the contest and kept him out of the Polar Bears’ next game against Wooster.
“It was really disappointing … the minutes have been limited for me especially last year and this season has gotten a little better,” Shew said. “Especially my senior year, that time missed and not being able to stay out there was disappointing.”
Shew called McBride the next day to thank him again for his help and although the odds of another Lake-Jackson game this season are low due to the two teams being in different district tournament brackets, the moment created another memorable image in a rivalry that has been one of the league’s best in recent seasons.
Ironically, McBride credited two unusual sources with providing the motivation to walk out onto the court to help an opposing player.
“With AAU basketball and social media, more of the kids know each other and you see more players picking up opponents when they’re down,” McBride said. “Maybe it’s a case of my team rubbing off on me because on film, I’ve seen them doing a lot of that this year.”
The game itself ended in a 69-48 final score for Jackson, which rolls into the postseason as the top seed in the Canton Division I district tournament bracket. As the top seed, the Polar Bears have the chance to play two home games to start the tournament, giving Shew and his seven fellow seniors two more chances to play in front of their home fans. Lake is slotted as the second seed in the Alliance Division I district bracket and due to the structure of the brackets, the two teams would have to reach the state semifinals to meet again.
Whether it happens or not, Shew and McBride won’t soon forget the closing minutes of a game whose outcome was no longer in doubt, when a potentially serious injury became a chance to show that even rivals can help each other in a moment of need.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB