The score was tied. The clock was winding down.
The game was on the line and the air was filled with electricity.
Four… three… two… the basketball was in the hands of Ray Windisch.
He faced the defender and jumped, as he reached the peak of his jump, he raised the ball and with a flick of his wrist, he released a last-second desperation shot.
One… the ball left his hand just before the game-ending buzzer sounded and it rotated in slow-motion as it arched its path towards the hoop. The crowd, holding their collective breath, anticipating the results. At that exact second, there wasn’t a noise that could be heard.
The ball cleared the front of the hoop and it made a “swishing” sound as the net snapped back as the ball rushed through it. The shot was good, and the noise that rose from the auditorium was deafening.
The Rockets were victorious once again.
In that precise moment, Ray Windisch became a hometown hero that younger kids would look up to for years.
Making a last-second shot to win the game for your hometown team was the dream of every single player that has ever played the game. In my mind, I can still see Ray make that shot. It was one of the most incredible high school sports experiences I have ever been a part of. Ray will be etched forever in my mind as a “hometown hero.”
It is what makes young boys and girls look up to upper-classmen and it motivates them to become just like the heroes they see on their high school teams.
I was no different, because watching that game on the stage-court of the old high school sealed my love for the game that I still carry. In the years following this event, I would make more heroes out of the players I would watch from the stands.
Besides Ray Windisch, there is another hero that comes to my mind to this very day.
It is funny how a kind gesture can stay with you. The smallest act a person does can resonate for years. That is what happened to me one cold day when walking from school to my Walnut Street home.
I was taking my time and not really paying any attention to anything. I was in my own little world, my head down as always and trying not to step on any cracks on the sidewalk.
I look up to see someone coming in my direction. Normally, if I saw someone coming up the same sidewalk, I would nonchalantly cross the street and try to make it look like it was a normal thing for me to do.
On this day, I had no time to make that happen. I was forced to cross this patch of sidewalk with whoever was walking up that sidewalk. I kept my head down and hoped I could walk by without being noticed.
There was no avoiding it, our paths were going to cross.
I looked up and it was Dick Wood.
He was a star player on the boys’ varsity basketball team. Every Friday I would watch with envy as he would run up and down the stage basketball court that the Oak Harbor Rockets played on.
He was older than me, and in my mind, he lived in a different solar system than I did. The truth was he lived in my neighborhood.
As a star basketball player, he was everything I longed to be.
What was I supposed to do? Get off the sidewalk, to let him pass? Offer him words of praise? Ask for his autograph? I hadn’t planned on this encounter. What were the rules for such an occasion?
What I did… was continue to look down at the sidewalk to avoid his gaze.
What he did… was say, “Hey David.”
I looked up and he gave me a smile and a simple nod of his head as he passed by. No other words were spoken and in a flash, he was gone.
A small act on his part, but a huge event for a young boy who looked up to young men like him as role models and sports heroes. Young boys that thought if we were lucky enough we could someday be just like them.
So, here comes Dick Wood in his Christmas red varsity jacket with a big O-H in Christmas green and white on the front. He was larger than life and he was talking to me. He acknowledged me, knew who I was and actually said my name.
I couldn’t help but smile. I could feel myself stand up a little straighter and my chest puff out with pride.
I started to run. I did not stop and when I got to my house, I burst through the front door, ignored my mom’s request to close the door and proceeded to run through the house all the way upstairs to my bedroom.
I grabbed my rolled-up ball of socks that I used to play bedroom basketball and I start shooting at the clothes hanger, shaped like a hoop, that was wedged in the back-side of my bedroom door. I had improved on the box I used to have taped to my door. I upgraded the box to a hanger. I was shooting and making shots from impossible positions. I played games in pretend scenarios that would always come down to Dick Wood making the last shot of the game as time ran out. In my bedroom, it was never me that made those baskets and be the hero. It was always Dick, and I would be there just to witness it.
It still gives me a warm feeling to know that, to this very day, Dick Wood had no idea what he did on that cold afternoon as he walked past me and said hello. He was genuine, and it was exactly what I needed. A simple “hello” from someone I looked up to.
I was a young boy that had withdrawn from everyone and everything.
He simply smiled, said hello and nodded his head.
Sometimes heroes and people we look up to aren’t found outside the small town we grew up in.
Sometimes… they walk among us.