Jim Fennell: Mikey Martineau scores the basket of a lifetime
MANCHESTER -- Mike Martineau was back behind the clock Wednesday as practice for the Central High School boys' basketball team was winding down. It's part of the routine for Martineau, a senior who has been the team's manager for four years.
"Mikey," as he is known by just about everyone who knows him - and it seems like everyone involved in high school basketball around here knows him - has become an integral part of the Central program. He lowers the side baskets before practice, shoots film during games and happily does anything else Little Green coach Doc Wheeler and his staff asks of him.
Tuesday night, they asked him to play.
Mikey couldn't have been happier.
He went in late in a home game against Nashua North and missed his first three shots from the perimeter. Then, with time running out, Mikey went down on the low post and took a pass from Mike Plentzas.
"I did my signature move," Mikey said, "a dropstep to the baseline. I power dribbled and went to the hoop."
Mikey scored. The place went nuts.
Feel-good stories don't get better than this.
"It made our night," Wheeler said. "I told our guys that's the one thing they will always remember about that game."
Mikey sure won't forget. The story has played out before, in grade school and middle school and, even with the junior varsity team that past couple of years. Mikey joins the team as a manager, but he always manages to get into a game or two, his teammates always looking to make sure he scores. Call it the power of personality.
"He's the first manager to play for me," Wheeler said. "I thought he earned it. Getting into the game was a nice thing, but having him involved in this program is a big piece of his life."
A medical condition slowed Mikey's development at an early age, but he hasn't let it slow him down. He's an Eagle Scout and an honor roll student who plans to study sports management in college. He's a little quirky, but he's as nice and as conscientious as they come. School Principal Ron Mailhot said when you talk about Central Pride, you're talking about kids like Mikey Martineau.
"We all adore the kid," Mailhot said. "He's one of the nicest people. Everyone knows him and they love him."
Mikey loves basketball. He loves playing it, watching it, being involved in it. And he loves Central basketball more than anything.
He wears his uniform to the games while he's in the stands filming. He wears it at practice, looking good when assistant coach Tom Dickson plays one-on-one with him.
Tuesday, he wore it in a game.
The Little Green - the only undefeated team left in Division I - were well ahead of the Titans when Mikey went in. Wheeler said it wouldn't have mattered what the score was; Mikey was playing.
Wheeler cleared it with school administrators, game officials and North coach Steve Lane. Mikey came in with less than two minutes left.
"It was the loudest the gym had been the whole night," senior captain Troy Pelletier said.
Even the North players and the students and parents in the crowd from Nashua got it. Everyone was rooting for him.
"I think they realized it was a big moment for him," Pelletier said.
Plentzas, who played in games with Mikey on the JV team last year, knew exactly who he was going to on the final play.
"You could tell he wanted it, so I gave him a nice bounce pass," Plentzas said. "It felt great to watch him score."
Mikey celebrated with other students, hugged his parents and sister and other family members who had come to the game. He was even interviewed by his teammates in the locker room afterward.
"He loved that," Plentzas said.
As it turns out, Tuesday was the first and last game of Mikey's varsity career at Central. Wheeler said there are no plans to play him again, so he was back working the clock in practice Wednesday. That's fine with Mikey. He has those two minutes and will never forget them. Everyone else who was there probably won't either.
This isn't the first time someone got this kind of moment in athletics and hopefully it won't be the last. We've seen it before when someone who wouldn't make a team, for whatever reason, is rewarded for giving everything they have to that team. Two minutes in a high school basketball game to make a memory for a lifetime. Sounds fair to me.
Mikey, Wheeler said, is great with numbers and stats, so it's no surprise he knew exactly how many points he has scored over the years. The last two, though, were the best.
"This basket ranks as No. 1," Mikey said. "It actually meant something because it was on the varsity.
"I'm not as good at basketball as everyone else, but these four years have been memorable, and these guys are the greatest group of guys. The last game for me I played in was on a team this cool."
That team got a lot cooler Tuesday night.