Today Could Change Your
Message From Dr.
In those small moments when we realize that life really is larger
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...
Calif. — The chant began late in the fourth quarter in the
at Clovis East High. The students
started it first, clapping their hands in unison and pounding
the bleachers with their feet.
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
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
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.
wanted him in the game. Amundsen wanted him in, too. But he was
also afraid the slightly built 18-year-old might get hurt.
considered all this as he walked toward Ryan and patted him on the
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.
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
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.
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.
in a game was something entirely different.
Ryan couldn't grasp the concepts of filling lanes, going to spots,
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.
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.
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
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."
before the last game of the year, Amundsen handed him his No. 12
"He did it
the right way. He earned it," Amundsen said. "You don't see that
much these days."
finally in the game, the chant grew even louder in the Clovis East
"Give Ryan the ball. Give Ryan
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.
played a few seconds in a few games already his senior year. It hadn't
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.
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.
through, the way it did so many times in the driveway in front of his
"Nothing but net," he exclaimed.
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.
parents were bawling, and the students were too," Amundsen said. "My
coaching staff all had tears in their eyes. It was an unbelievable
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.
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