NOVAK: Restoring my faith in humanity

Never in my 30-plus years of covering high school sports had I ever seen such a gruesome injury as I did Friday night at Niles High School.

I hope I never see anything like it again.

What I witnessed afterward renewed my faith in mankind. Or perhaps it is the fact that it is the season of miracles. Either way, I want to congratulate the Niles and Portage Northern basketball teams for their reactions to a tragic situation.

Let me set the scene for you. The Vikings and Huskies were playing in an emotionally charged first quarter of the SMAC West Division opener for both teams. I felt that the game was getting out of control due to the physicality of the game, and that at some point, a fight could break out before the game ended.

Then, without warning, everything changed.

The reason it changed is truly tragic on one hand, but monumental on the other. Portage Northern player Myles Johnson went up for a dunk. Johnson came up short and jammed the ball directly into the rim, which in my view, shot him backward and forced him to land awkwardly.

Play went on as Niles grabbed the rebound and headed up the court. Johnson remained on the floor with no one immediately knowing how badly he was injured. The reality of the situation set in quickly and Niles trainer Bob Taylor, Niles coaches and Portage Northern coaches rushed onto the court to assist Johnson, who had suffered a compound fracture to his leg.

To make matters worse, the broken bone pierced the skin and was bleeding.

Taylor and others began administering aid to Johnson. They got his leg immobilized and were waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

What happened while all this was going on is what helped restore my faith in mankind. First-year Niles boys coach Patrick Touhey called his team together and began praying for Johnson. Now, remember, moments earlier, these two teams were nearly coming to blows.

Then, every Niles player went to the Portage Northern bench to express their concern for Johnson.

As the ambulance arrived and Johnson was being placed on the stretcher, the Huskies headed over to Johnson to encourage him and show their support for a fallen teammate.

Anyone who thinks that high school sports are blown out of proportion and that high school kids feel a sense of entitlement needed to be in the gym Friday night to witness a true act of class by the Vikings and a display of team unity that you only learn from being a part of a team.

It took some time before both teams truly got back into the flow of playing a basketball game, while Johnson was headed to South Bend where he would undergo successful surgery to repair his injured leg. But eventually, they did, and the two teams played extremely hard until the end.

Niles would be declared the winner Friday night as the scoreboard read 50-49 when the final buzzer sounded, but in my mind, both teams were winners for their display of sportsmanship, humility and caring for another individual.

This is what high school sports are all about. This is what the Christmas season is all about. Let us all learn a lesson that was taught to us on that night by high-school-aged kids, who we are too quick to judge at times. They say children are our future. I know on Friday night, I would be proud to have any one of those children lead me into the future.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com

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