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Tips For Living

Today Could Change Your Life Forever


Message From Dr. Redard:

In those small moments when we realize that life really is larger than what we expect, and we focus on what we can BE rather than what we have been, life is inexorably changed.

As you read the following article, let the message melt over your soul, and notice that as you come to the last passage life will seem a little different...

CLOVIS, Calif. The chant began late in the fourth quarter in the basketball gym at Clovis East High. The students started it first, clapping their hands in unison and pounding the bleachers with their feet.

It didn't take long for the parents to pick it up, too. The noise grew until the whole gym seemed to shake.

"We want Ryno. We want Ryno."

Pacing the sideline, coach Tim Amundsen felt himself getting goose bumps. Less than 4 minutes remained in the game, and Clovis East was winning comfortably over rival Buchanan High. Now Amundsen had a decision to make.

It was senior night, the last time Ryan Belflower would wear his home uniform. Everyone in the gym knew his story.

Ryan was a special education student who would do anything to fit in and worked tirelessly to make that happen. His basketball career began as a ninth-grader passing out balls to the girls team. Then he hooked on with the boys team, getting there every morning at 6:30, helping out in drills, running the practice clock and cleaning up afterward.

Now, he sat proudly on the sideline in his own white No. 12 uniform.

The crowd wanted him in the game. Amundsen wanted him in, too. But he was also afraid the slightly built 18-year-old might get hurt.

Amundsen considered all this as he walked toward Ryan and patted him on the shoulder.

The noise was deafening as Ryan ran out on the court.

In the stands, Justin Belflower was near tears. A few years earlier, he

was a jock at Clovis East. He knew how hard his kid brother had worked for this moment.

"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," Justin said.

On this afternoon in February, it did.

Ryan's coach put him in to soak up some junk minutes toward the end of the game. Ryan hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer, helping to clinch his team's win. And Clovis East would never be the same.

Shooting a basketball was never that big a problem for Ryan. He figured that out during countless hours of playing H-O-R-S-E with Justin in the driveway of the family's modest home in this Fresno suburb.

Playing in a game was something entirely different. Ryan couldn't grasp the concepts of filling lanes, going to spots, running routes.

As a child he struggled to understand the smallest things. He could tell you his name, but for years he couldn't tell you his age.

Ryan had autistic symptoms, but no one ever formally diagnosed him with that. One day during his freshman year, girls basketball coach Meredith Pulliam asked her class if anyone wanted to help the team.

In the back of the room, Ryan's hand went up.

Every day he'd be at practice, handing out balls, trying to figure out how to run the clock.

Ryan was finally a part of something. And the kid who could barely talk to anyone a few years earlier now wanted to be manager of the boys' team. Maybe, just maybe, he could even play.

"I had a long day to figure it out, but I wanted to play," Ryan said. "I really did. And if I didn't make it, at least I tried."

Amundsen knew about Ryan's work habits and his determination. After Ryan tried out as a junior, he told him he could be the boys' team manager. If he worked real hard, maybe he would earn a uniform.

"A lot of times kids like that end up disappearing after two weeks," Amundsen said.

Not Ryan.

He got up early, swept the gym, put out basketballs and got players water.

"I paid the price," Ryan said. "I didn't want to quit, and I wasn't going to."

Just before the last game of the year, Amundsen handed him his No. 12 uniform.

"He did it the right way. He earned it," Amundsen said. "You don't see that much these days."

With Ryan finally in the game, the chant grew even louder in the Clovis East gym.

"Give Ryan the ball. Give Ryan the ball."

Ryan wanted it, too. He ran down the court to the corner to wait in case someone saw him. If no one did, he would run back behind the 3-point line to get a pass.

On defense, the 5-foot-6 player ran after Buchanan High's biggest man.


"Coach told me to guard anybody I saw," he would explain later.

Ryan had played a few seconds in a few games already his senior year. It hadn't gone well.

In his first game, the other team was running a fast break off a miss and Ryan couldn't get out of the way. He was sent sprawling about 10 feet down the court. It wasn't anybody's fault, but it made Amundsen wary.

About 2 minutes remained in the game, and Ryan's teammates were trying their best to get him the ball.

Suddenly, he had it unguarded out beyond the 3-point line. As he launched the shot, everyone in the gym froze. On the sideline, his teammates rose as one. The shot missed badly, clunking off the lower backboard.

By now, the Buchanan players seemed to recognize what was going on. When Ryan got the ball again they fouled him, sending him to the free throw line so he would have a chance to score.

His free throw arced high off the top of the backboard.

The final seconds were ticking off the clock and Clovis East got the ball one last time. This time, Ryan found a spot just beyond the 3-point line to the left of the key. He got a pass, and turned to shoot.

The noisy gym quieted for a split second as the ball seemed to hang in the air forever.

It swished through, the way it did so many times in the driveway in front of his house.

"Nothing but net," he exclaimed.

The buzzer sounded as Ryan ran joyously toward his bench, attempting to chest butt a teammate in celebration.

In the stands, Justin tried to scream, but nothing came out. He wasn't alone. Grown men and women hugged each other and cried.

"All the parents were bawling, and the students were too," Amundsen said. "My coaching staff all had tears in their eyes. It was an unbelievable moment."

It wasn't over yet. As the teams shook hands, two football players grabbed Ryan and hoisted him on their shoulders. He held his arms high in celebration, a big grin on his face, as they carried him on a victory lap around the gym.

"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."

"He's a guy who tries more than most people ever do," Pulliam said of Ryan. "He's probably put in twice the work and gotten half the results of anyone else. But he gives others like him hope that there might be a moment in life for them, too, in some way."

By Tim Dahlberg

Associated Press

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