• Bill Althaus: Bears rally behind coach's ailing infant

  • John Vickers, the personable boys basketball coach at William Chrisman High School, has two families.

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  • John Vickers, the personable boys basketball coach at William Chrisman High School, has two families.
    One is struggling with an illness that illustrates how unfair life can be.
    The other is helping Vickers, and his wife Stephanie, cope with the illness their newborn son Samuel is battling at Children's Mercy Hospital.
    Monday night at Liberty High School, in a no-frills Class 5 District 15 matchup against Noland Road rival Truman High School – that had no PA system, player introduction or national anthem as officials were trying to get the game in before Snowmageddon struck – the Bears dedicated what could have been their final game of the season to young Samuel.
    They came out of every break chanting, “1-2-3 Samuel!” instead of their familiar “1-2-3 Bears!” They knew that their coach had been living with Samuel at Children's Mercy Hospital and that Vickers agonized over the small oxygen mask that was taped to the infant's face as he struggled to breath because of the RSV virus.
    “I love Coach, I love Chrisman and I love this team,” said an emotional Alex Ball, whose late fourth-quarter steal paved the way for a miracle 49-47 come-from-behind win that saw Chrisman wipe out an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit.
    “There's no place I'd rather be than right here at William Chrisman High School, and it's because of this team and our coaches and our fans. This is the greatest moment of my life!”
    Ball was mobbed, alongside the man of the hour, senior Eli Alvis, a lanky forward who looks like he stepped off the set of the greatest sports movie of all time, “Hoosiers.”
    Alvis drained a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the game, then received the ball after Ball's dramatic steal. He took one shot that was knocked out of bounds.
    Vickers and his staff then devised a brilliant inbounds play in which all the Bears lined up near midcourt and charged toward the basket.
    Alvis got the ball and hit a layup with just three seconds left. There was a fraction of silence, then the Bears bench erupted.
    Truman then attempted a desperation 3-pointer that bounced off the front of the rim, and the heartfelt celebration began on the Chrisman bench.
    Assistant coaches Bill Adams, J.R. Wells, Jason Stacy and Terry Parker hugged Vickers, as tears rolled down their faces.
    Vickers’ father, J.B. Vickers, came down from his familiar spot behind the Bears bench and embraced his son in a bear hug that nearly broke his spine.
    Then, it was the players' turn. They hugged and bounced up and down and let Vickers know what he meant to them and their school.
    “Well,” a grinning Bears activities director Dan Ogle said as he watched the celebration, “guess we gave you something to write about tonight.”
    Page 2 of 2 - I've been fortunate to witness more than my share of dramatic victories. There were countless Raytown South-Lee's Summit matchups during those teams’ glory years, the Tyronn Lue years at Raytown and countless last-minute game winners – enough to fill an entire sports page.
    But this game was different.
    As Vickers emerged from the locker room before the game, you could see the strain of Samuel's illness tearing at his soul. Yet, he was there for his Chrisman family, and he will always be there for his Chrisman family.
    When his team got off to a sloppy start, he didn't scold or embarrass his players; he coached them up and let them know how to correct their mistakes.
    He and his staff devised a defensive scheme at halftime that took Truman scoring leader Lane Titus (who finished with just one field goal and four free throws) out of the equation.
    And with his heart pumping so hard it nearly popped out of his chest, he directed a 21-point fourth quarter attack that saw Ball hit seven free throws, Chris Horn nail his third 3-pointer of the game and Alvis score seven of his 11 points.
    “I don't know if anyone in the gym had as much faith in the team as John,” said Adams, Vickers’ veteran assistant coach, “but he never gave up, and neither did the kids.”
    The Bears could have celebrated and thanked their coach for hours following the game, but they were whisked off the court so the second district game could get under way.
    “This is for Coach and his family,” Alvis said. “We did it for him.”
    The last time Truman and Chrisman met, the Patriots claimed a 77-57 victory in the I-Town Showdown at the Independence Events Center.
    Funny how the littlest Bear, who is tucked away in an intensive care unit at one of the best children's hospitals in the country, can inspire a group of bigger Bears.
    And one day, he can sit on his dad's lap and hear about the role he played in a comeback for the ages – one that you had to see to truly believe.

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