The chant inside the William Chrisman High School gymnasium began with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the Bears’ 73-60 victory over Ruskin.
“We want Kris! We want Kris!” the standing-room-only student body section began to chant, urging coach Jake Kates to bring senior manager Kris Steele, who had dressed for Senior Night, off the bench.
“We want Kris! We want Kris!” the chant continued, until Kates summored the popular manager from the end of the bench and onto the court, with 1:57 left.
The crowd went crazy, so did Steele’s new teammates.
“The best part of tonight,” said senior guard Tony Hilton, who was part of a five-man senior starting unit, “was Kris getting to play. We all wanted him to score a basket.”
Every player on the court did his best to get Steele the ball, and he managed to take three shots, but none went through the hoop.
“That’s OK,” senior guard Dawson Herl said, “Kris told us he was going to score 30 points when Chrisman plays Truman in their Special Olympics Game next week.”
This night belonged to the seniors, as Hilton, Jalen Moore and Caysen Woods – all starting their first games – joined regulars Kelvyn Mason and Herl in the rout of the Eagles.
“When Coach Kates told me at practice earlier this week I was getting to dress for this game I got real excited,” said Steele, one of the outstanding Special Olympic basketball players in Eastern Jackson County. “But I didn’t feel different tonight because I was wearing a uniform, and I wasn’t the manager, because Coach Kates and the guys always make me feel like a part of the team.”
The crowd went crazy each time Steele touched the ball, and Kates had to battle his emotions talking about the newest member of the Bears after the big conference win.
“This is what you do on Senior Night,” Kates said. “The guys on this team are so special to me, and Kris is one of the guys. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen our players any more excited than they were tonight when he came into the game.”
Steele said the crowd chanting his name was a big surprise.
“I heard them and I really didn’t expect that,” Steele said. “That was so cool. I just want to thank everybody, especially Coach Kates.”
The game was close for one quarter as the Eagles, behind eight points from center Deon McCarthy, led 20-17.
But the Bears used an 18-point second quarter, and a much improved defense to take a 35-32 lead into halftime.
With Herl scoring eight of his team-high 17 points in the third quarter, the Bears cruised the rest of the game.
Hilton, who usually provides offense as the Bears sixth man, said it was fun to get his first start.
“It was fun, it was different,” said Hilton, who finished with 13 points. “I just started scoring from the first of the game, rather than after I came in as a reserve. It was pretty cool, but not as cool as Kris.”
Mason added 13 points and Isaiah Jackson finished with 10. If the Bears can get a win next Tuesday at Raytown, they will claim a conference championship.
The Eagles’ McCarthy led all scorers with 22 points.