Monday, January 11, 2010

Gabe's Night

Gabe Neal probably won’t ever lead his team in scoring or rebounds.

His athletic skills aren’t quite as developed as his teammates. He does not start for the undefeated eighth-grade basketball team Gabe plays on.

Gabe actually does not get to play much.

What he is best at is inspiring his teammates and the other students at Pansy Kidd Middle School in Poteau.

On Saturday night, he sat and watched his teammates build up a big lead in the finals of the LeFlore County Junior High Tournament against Hodgen.

As the game wound down, coach Kyle Hardaway put Gabe in the game. We have all seen this before as players who seldom get to play get a chance but nothing happens.

His teammates gave the ball to Gabe the first time down the court and encouraged him to shoot. He did, from way outside. The crowd watched the ball with anticipation, hoping somehow the ball would find the target.

It didn’t, but his teammates and fans were still enjoying Gabe getting a chance to play. The next time down the court, Gabe set up outside the three-point line on the right side of the court.

His teammates made sure Gabe got another chance. He caught the ball, paused for just a second and let loose a shot that looked as good as his more talented teammates.

The basketball flew high and true toward the goal. Almost every eye in Carl Albert’s gym watched the flight of the ball. They realized there was a chance the ball could get close to the rim, but it would be too good if the ball actually went in.

Right? Wrong.

This time, the ball did go through the rim and through the net. The crowd roared, his teammates celebrated on the bench and the court. A great night for the Raiders suddenly was even better.

It was the loudest roar of the night, one that was certainly heard outside the gym.

Yes, it was almost too good to be true. Gabe got another chance but his shot was deflected, not that it mattered. Gabe made a basket he will remember forever.

Teammate Kendrick Hardaway won the MVP award for the tournament. Two other teammates, Jerrett Lowrimore and Jon Scott Sanders were named to the all-tournament team.

But after the game ended, the player who went to accept the plaque for the team championship was one Gabe Neal. His smile stretched from one ear to the other. On this night, he was an inspiration to all of us. For a brief moment, nobody worried about the recession, the frigid temperatures or whatever problems we all face.

And 10 or 20 years from now, when the other players remember winning the 2010 LeFlore County Junior High Championship, they might not remember the score or who the opponent was on that cold night. But they will remember Gabe and his night to shine.


  1. wonderful write-up mr. hall. wish i could have been there to watch. sounds like a sports center highlight!!!!

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  3. said...
    As I sat here reading your story about Gabe, I had so many images going through my head about that very moment I completely lost touch with anything going on around me as they did right there in that gym!

    But oh how I wish I had been there to see it first hand!!

    And for the record, nothing came anywhere close to that at the Tournament Of Champions. Matter of fact the Championship game probably had less than 100 peeps there...

    Congrats to Gabe and his team~

    And thank you Craig for telling Gabe's story so I too could know about what an amazing young man he is and what a wonderful group of friends he shares a team with =]

  4. Thank you for writing this. I am Gabe's mother, I am very proud of him. But I am most proud and happy for the fact that Gabe has the honor to play with such wonderful young men. Their encouragement and support of him makes my heart sore. They are not only wonderful athletes they are a tribute to their families and coaches. Their collective and individual characters are full of integrity and compassion. Solid young men with a bright future. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the players and the coaches for taking such wonderful care of my son. Jerilyn Neal

  5. I have just read one of the most beautiful stories ever written. I am Gabe's grandmother. I can not say in words how I feel. My heart is full, with pride, and joy for Gabe. But also for his teammates, friends, and fans. Everyone who took part in the game, whether it was teammates, coaches, parents, or fans I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know now, that my daughter and grandchildren live a wonderful caring community, and that means so much to me. Since I live so far away and don't get to see them as much as I would like, I know in my heart they are surrounded with lots of love and support. Sharon Jacobs, Independence, MO.

  6. This is truly what a team is.G abe is an exceptional young man that each of us can learn from; he has a true love for the game of basketball, but more importantly life. His teammates are truly remarkable. I sat and watched these fine young men talk to Gabe before Coach Hardaway put him in the game. The love they have for him was obvious on the bench. Coach Hardaway should also be commended for his role with this fine team. I am proud to teach at Pansy Kidd Middle School, but more so I am thankful that these students are a part of my life.

    Susan Manlove

  7. Gabo! My nephew! I could not be prouder of you and your team. Gabe has been a star in my eyes his whole life. I would like to say Thank You to everyone to was part of this game for making my nephew sore above the stars like he always has in my eyes. I live in a large city where sometimes you wonder what happened to the sense of pride all of our children need and deserve as they are growing up, well I see now it is out there and Gabe like I have always told you....You can change the world and this is Just the Beginning!!
    April Granger(Gabe's aunt)Kansas City, MO