Answer to a Young Man's Prayer

March 23, 1998
March 23, 1998

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March 23, 1998

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Answer to a Young Man's Prayer

No salary caps. No $100 million contracts. No arbitrators. No
agents. No lockouts. Just this: a buzzer blaring and a
basketball spinning near the rafters and two kids, two teams,
two towns about to get their lives changed when it comes down.

This is an article from the March 23, 1998 issue Original Layout

Of course, pretty much the entire town of Kimberly isn't even
watching the ball. Those folks are still hugging, screaming and
thinking they've just won the Idaho Class A-3 high school
championship at the Idaho Center outside Boise. With only 2.9
seconds left in the season, their hero, junior Rich Arrossa,
swished a Houdini of a jumper for a two-point lead. They figured
it was over. They were state champs for the first time in 46

No wonder almost nobody noticed Mike Christensen, a
hat-rack-thin senior for Declo High, as he took the inbounds
pass, dribbled to just past the free throw line and heaved a
75-foot rosary off his chest, trying to save a 25-0 season, his
high school dreams and the hopes of his town of 300. "Without
our high school sports," says Jay Fox, who runs Declo's only
grocery store-gas station-deli, "we don't have much."

Seemed like that basketball would never come down. "It was just
like in the movies," says Mike. "Everything seemed to go totally
quiet, and the ball just kind of hung in slow motion."

If anybody was going to make a shot straight out of Hoosiers, it
would be Mike. He's one of those kids who can sit in the
backseat of a 1976 GTO going 35 mph and bank a crumpled Doritos
bag off a 7-Eleven and into a trash can. A bow hunter, he has
taken deer at 75 yards. In practice he made 75-foot bombs now
and again, though his coach, Loyd Garey, always made him stop.
"You're not going to get that shot in the game," Garey said. One
night at a Declo girls' game, Mike bought a one-dollar raffle
ticket and won a chance at making a half-court shot for charity.
Count it!

Now the crowd at the Idaho Center loosed the kind of gasp you
hear when a Wallenda falls. Now there was this indoor thunder,
and Mike's dad, Val, is crying, and Rich's dad, George, is
crying, and Rich is crying, and Mike is somewhere in the middle
of a scrum of arms and shoes and size-12 grins, and the little
scoreboard reads DECLO 72, KIMBERLY 71, 0:00. Didja hear? Some
kid just banked in a 75-footer to take state!

Sports today isn't easy. We suffer the agents and contracts and
lawsuits because we know that at its center sports is
heartachingly real. It doesn't come from Disney or Nike or
somebody's convoluted scheme to gift wrap a school record.
Sometimes there's utter joy, and sometimes there's utter sorrow.
Sometimes it stays for only 2.9 seconds, and sometimes it stays
for a lifetime. "I never felt anything like that in my life,"
says Kimberly guard Scott Plew. "To feel the highest high you've
ever felt and then, in the next second, the lowest low, it was
horrible. But I'm still glad I was a part of it."

What happened next was more amazing still. Nobody beat chests or
pointed fingers or commissioned a new tattoo. No parents
screamed at scorers or coaches or kids. The Kimberly players
just stepped up straight and tall and took their runner-up
trophy and medals and their ache as Declo became, officially,
the state champ on a shot too big to dream.

Back home Mike and his teammates got to ride through town on the
fire truck, and girls Mike hardly knows gave him hugs. The
school threw a big assembly to celebrate its first boys'
basketball title and asked Mike to try the shot again. Sure
enough, he made it on the second try. Fox taped every newspaper
clipping he could find by the cash register, where they'll
probably hang for what, 50 years? "Tell you what," he says.
"He's got free lunch in here the rest of his life, long as I can
afford it."

In a small town much of who you are in life is worked out by
your senior season. If he gets lucky, Mike might play some
Division III college ball, but he's got to go off on his
two-year Mormon mission soon. After that, he hopes to stay in
Declo, maybe make a living working outdoors, while holding down
a permanent job as the town legend.

As for Rich, he went home and played the tape of the end of the
game over and over that night until it sank in. He got up early
the next morning, went over to the gym and shot for an hour and
a half, alone.

"How else am I going to go back next year?" he says.

"Everything seemed to go totally quiet, and the ball just kind
of hung in slow motion."