Editor’s note: The Union Leader is bringing back some of Joe Sullivan’s Union Leader sports columns. This one was originally published on March 17, 2009.
WHILE watching the Big East men’s basketball tournament last week, I learned that the current Providence College team sports five career 1,000-point scorers. That interesting tidbit brought back two stories centered on that magic 1,000-point plateau.
Here they are:
After each varsity game, the parents clomped down the bleachers and bee-lined for the scorer’s table. They had their own scorebook, filled with 2’s (field goals) and 0’s (free throws). Some of the 0’s were darkened (a make) and some were empty (a miss).
They knew exactly how many points their son had in the game, but they wanted the number verified by the official scorer.
The conversation would go something like this: “How many did Junior get?” the father would ask.
“Dunno yet,” the scorer would answer. “Haven’t done individual totals yet.”
“Well, could you do his first, please? He had 19.”
“If you know how many he had, why do you want to know how many he had?”
“We just want to be certain.”
During basketball season, a similar exchange between these parents and this scorer unfolded every Tuesday and Friday night, home and away. The parents irritated the team scorer so much that during home games, he started to shortchange the kid. He’d credit another player with one of Junior’s field goals, which would send the scorebook-keeping parents into post-game apoplexy.
They’d argue, show the scorer where he’d gone wrong, drag the visiting scorer into the fray to prove their contention — all to no avail.
This went on for all of Junior’s junior season and most of his senior season. With about three weeks left in the regular season of his final year, the parents requested a meeting with the head coach and the school’s athletics director.
When they met, the parents asked for the scorebooks used during their son’s first two years in the program, when he played for the freshman and junior varsity teams.
The varsity coach said he had no idea where those books were. The AD said that most likely they had been filled, then tossed.
He asked the parents why they wanted the books. They informed him that Junior was closing in on 1,000 career points and they thought it would be a nice touch to have the scorebooks present for the ceremony in which he received his stenciled basketball commemorating his achievement.
The coach and AD stared at the parents for several seconds, trying to determine if they were serious. They were serious.
It took nearly an hour to convince the devastated parents that the only points that counted in reaching the 1,000-point plateau were those scored on the varsity level. Those 1,000 points, and only those 1,000 points, led to a special celebration.
A few years later, though, I heard another 1,000-point story and realized that the coach and AD weren’t exactly right. Sometimes there can be extenuating circumstances that lead to a stenciled basketball and a special celebration.
Kevin Fitzgerald — a Mission High of Roxbury, Mass., kid — walked on to the freshman basketball team at Saint Anselm College in 1970. Thanks to his tremendous work ethic, he continued his walk-on success for the next three years as well, carving out a spot for himself on coach Al Grenert’s varsity teams.
He made appearances in several varsity games over his three-season career — but always during garbage time. He knew his most important minutes came during practice time. He didn’t know that someone else also knew this.
Near the end of his final season with Grenert, he joined his teammates and coaches at center court after a particularly grueling practice. Grenert brought out a ball with Fitzgerald’s name painted on it.
Underneath his name appeared this surprising revelation: 1,000-point scorer.
Grenert awarded Fitzgerald the ball as a token of his appreciation for how hard the walk-on had worked every day at practice, for how hard he had made the starters work to beat him when he played defense, for how hard he had made the starters work to defend him when he played offense.
Grenert told the team that in Fitzgerald’s three years as a varsity player, he had easily amassed 1,000 practice points and in doing so had played a major role in helping each team improve. That ball became one of Kevin Fitzgerald’s most prized possessions.
As the end of hoop season nears, practice players at every level who gave everything they had every day should know that they were integral parts of their teams.
They may not receive any kind of special recognition for what they did.
But they could.