Ethan McConnell is a leader. As a senior on the Falls City (Oregon) High School basketball team, he was the point guard and leading scorer. Ethan also played quarterback, running back and even lineman for the football team. His leadership extends beyond athletic competition. His basketball coach, Sean Burgett, told the Polk County Itemizer-Observer, “He’s the type of kid that gives all of his effort, makes the right choices, helps out the little kids…he’s just a class citizen and really a great role model to come out of this school. You wish you had 10 of him.”
In late November 2012, Ethan and his Falls City teammates traveled to Mapleton for their season opener. On the Mapleton squad was Davan Overton. A junior, Davan has a rare condition called Dandy-Walker Syndrome, which slows brain development and is caused by a cyst on his spine. In addition to restricting motor skills and coordination, the condition limits Davan from playing football and most other contact sports. He can, however, play basketball under controlled conditions. So whenever his team is on either side of a lopsided score, Davan gets his opportunity.
That’s what occurred in the Falls City vs. Mapleton game as Davan’s team pulled out to a comfortable lead in the second half. Mapleton coach Aaron Decker put Davan in the contest with about three minutes to go. Every other player on the school’s eight-man roster had scored that night. Davan’s teammates desperately wanted to get him a bucket. Several shots went up. None went in. Davan took what he thought would be his last shot with about 10 seconds to play. Ethan grabbed what should have been the game-ending rebound. As Davan turned to run down the court to play defense, he heard an unfamiliar voice. Ethan yelled, “Davan!” As he turned around responding to the voice, a perfect chest pass landed in Davan’s hands.
With mere seconds left, Davan settled behind the 3-point line and took the shot. The ball hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded. The Mapleton gym – including the Falls City players – erupted with cheers. Ethan had delivered the greatest assist of his career. It wasn’t staged or planned. It was sportsmanship at its best – spontaneous and life-affirming. Mike McConnell, Ethan’s dad, told The Oregonian, “You try to raise your kids with some morals and some faith. You try to give them a mishmash of everything they might need in the world. But you can’t dictate which way they turn. It’s just such a wonderful thing to see a kid, especially your own kid, make a decision like that, to do something for someone else without really even thinking about it.”
Ethan and Davan were technically opponents that night, but Ethan treated Davan like a teammate. It is often said that character is what you do when no one is watching. That’s not necessarily an absolute. Sometimes character has to be shown with all of the lights on and everyone in the house watching.