Dexter turned back to look at me, his big brown eyes welling up with tears, silently begging for a miracle that would change the outcome. A pile of Starburst wrappers sat next to him as the clock ticked down.
I looked outward towards the court and watched as Michael Boen attempted a drive to the basket only to have the ball swatted out of bounds. The senior cager's face said it all, his blue eyes simultaneously welling up with tears at the same time as my son's.
Dexter put his hands to his forehead, his blonde messy curls blocked his expression, but I could feel the emotion building. He kept his head bent down towards the floor. It was too much for his 9-year-old soul to bear.
With 23 seconds left, Boen fouled out of the Div. I South title game to end his high school career. It was over.
Three years ago, my son was incredibly shy. He had a hard time walking into a birthday party without getting overwhelmed. Making it to a flag football game on time was a challenge. Large groups often intimidated him.
Two winters ago, I was searching for a way to help build his confidence. I found the answer in basketball. I signed him up for our town league and brought him along when I covered our local boys basketball team, the Mansfield Hornets.
If ever there was a time to start following the Hornets, that was it. Mansfield made it all the way to the state championship, where they lost to Putnam, 50-48, in overtime.
At the time a tall blonde sophomore named Michael Boen stood out to both Dexter and I. The kid could play. Sure, Boen scored, but it was his composure that stood out to me most. Nothing rattled him. Whether pulling down a rebound or moving the ball around on offense, Boen was a workhorse.
When Boen heard he was Dexter's favorite player, he reached out and asked if he could meet him. I will never forget the look on my son's face when I told him. He was in awe and immediately got to drawing his hero a picture.
The two met after a playoff game where Dexter handed over his drawing. Boen towered over my son, and crouched down for a photo.
Over the next two years, whenever Boen has seen Dexter around town he makes it a point to give him a fist pump and ask how he's doing. He wished Dex luck when he played in his own basketball tournament and always said hello to Dexter before his own games. Their relationship became an unspoken bond between a little boy and his hometown idol.
Boen may not realize it, but his taking an interest in Dexter planted seeds of confidence.
I've watched my son participate in two different basketball tryouts and play in front of a packed house during halftime at a home varsity game. Dexter can now give oral presentations in front of his peers and join in on a pick up basketball game with boys two years older.
After the Division I title loss, Dexter stood behind Boen and his teammates as officials handed over the runner-up trophy. Once the ceremony was over, I saw Boen turn and look. Before he did anything else, he spotted Dexter, walked over and gave him a high five.
This time tears welled up in my eyes.
I took a photo of the two and had a hard time finding the words. I'm sure Michael wanted nothing more than to get off that court and process the loss. Instead he took the time to make a young boy feel special, that he was part of it and belonged.
All I could do was say, "Thank you" and pat Michael on the arm.
My all-time favorite movie is It's a Wonderful Life. In the movie, the angel Clarence says to the main character, George Bailey, "Strange isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
It's going to be hard to watch the Hornets next year knowing Michael won't be suiting up. I asked Dexter what he will miss most and why Boen was his favorite.
"I can't explain it Mom, there is just nobody else like him."
Our existence, the choices we make -- they matter. Sometimes we may never know the impact we have. That the simple act of playing basketball with heart and passion can forever alter another's life.
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