On Saturday, July 19, 2014, it took 11-year-old Cole Bissonette five tries to sink a basket for the Light Blue team in the Jammers summer youth basketball league run by the Punta Gorda (FL) Police Department. His first shot was an air-ball, but 13-year-old Black team opponent Kenny Scribner saved the ball from going out of bounds and passed it back to Cole, whose second shot hit the front of the rim and bounced away.
Kenny rebounded the ball again, and passed it to Cole for a third try, which also was unsuccessful. Then came a fourth missed shot and yet another pass back to Cole, whose fifth shot found the bottom of the net, earning him a standing ovation from the crowd and high-fives from both teams. It was the first basket of Cole’s life, and it came in the season’s seventh game.
Youth basketball players do not usually get standing ovations, certainly not for scoring after four missed shots. Nor do they ordinarily get newspaper coverage for a made basket after four missed shots. And, of course, they do not usually get five tries to score because a player on the opposing team keeps passing them the ball.
But Cole's first basket was unusual because he has cerebral palsy and a gross motor problem on his left side. He initially signed up to be the Light Blue team's manager because his twin brother, Dylan, played on the squad. Smaller than most of the other players, Cole eventually began playing the last few minutes each game, and lately has gotten more playing time. "I noticed that he didn't get in the game a lot," Kenny Scribner explained to Charlotte Sun sportswriter Zach Miller after the July 19 game. "I wanted to see him actually enjoy playing instead of sitting a lot."
But what about competition and the desire to win? Didn't Kenny Scribner, his 13-year-old teammate Connor Scribner (no relation), who made one of the passes to Cole, and the Black team's other players want to win? "I couldn't believe how sweet this group of competitive boys were being to my son," Cole's mother told the Sun after the game. "It's just awesome because they are really competitive, yet both teams as a whole were willing to give up points and shots they could've possibly made to allow him to have a little bit of glory."
Whether they realized it or not, the Jammers Black team displayed what Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Steep calls "the power of empathy," which she says is "the great gift of human beings." These competitive players and their coaches taught one another a thing or two about this gift in a game that saw both squads try their best to defeat the other.
The Punta Gorda Police Department runs the Jammers basketball league "to build character, teach the importance of sportsmanship, enhance the lines of communication between police officers and the youth in our community, as well as to improve players' social skills." It sounds like the league is doing just that!
Source: Zach Miller, A Winning Moment: Few Dry Eyes Over Jammers' Show of Sportsmanship, Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, Fla.), July 27, 2014, p. B1; Jammers Youth Basketball League, http://www.ci.punta-gorda.fl.us/depts/police/jammers.html]