West Palm Beach, Fla.
THE SUREST sign that the season is going well for the Summit Christianbasketball team of West Palm Beach, Fla., isn't that the Saints are 23--2 andranked No. 2 in the state in Class 2A. It's that on some days after practice,assistant coach Vincent Merriweather gives sophomore center Altavious Carter aride home, just like old times.
Fourteen monthsago, it appeared that the two had taken their last ride together. On Dec. 15,2005, Merriweather was driving Carter home after practice when a school busslammed into the back of Merriweather's van, which was stopped at a red light.Though they were wearing seat belts, their seats were dislodged and they werethrown to the floor and briefly knocked unconscious. (Six bus passengers hadminor injuries.) Carter came to first, and when he looked at Merriweather lyingnext to him, he thought his coach was dead.
In the monthsthat followed there would be times when Merriweather, 42, who works as afirefighter, wished he had died. He was initially paralyzed from the neck down,and in the days after the accident he lay in his hospital bed despairing."The more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to kill myself,"Merriweather says. The 6'5" Carter, meanwhile, had surgery for a brokenneck. A month later he began rehab to strengthen his upper body, and six monthslater he played his first game, in a summer league. "The main thing I wasworried about was Coach getting better," says Carter, who lives with hismother, Tonya McRae, a medical assistant.
Merriweather didget better. With his neck fractured and spinal cord bruised, it took him amonth to first move his right toe. "It's like my arms and legs were frozenand they started to thaw out," he says. Although he walks with a limp andhas only 35% use of his left hand, Merriweather, unmarried, is self-sufficient,cooking simple meals, and he has no problem being behind the wheel again.
Carter nowaverages 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, and the duo will look tohelp Summit Christian win its first district and state titles. "Just bybeing here," says head coach Murray Smith, "they teach our kids aboutfighting back and never giving up."
Carter (No. 1) and Merriweather are back on the court and on theroad.