Four Years, One Shot

team manager’s on-court performance offers lesson about sportsmanship

Scott Berseth

Zach Peterson (center) is flanked by teammates after scoring a three-pointer at the end of his first – and last – on-court appearance for the Bloomer Blackhawks. Zach was the team’s manager for four years.
Zach Peterson (#32) is flanked by teammates after scoring a three-pointer at the end of his first – and last – on-court appearance for the Bloomer Blackhawks. Zach was the team’s manager for four years.

A basketball game was played on a Thursday night, and like many played across the state of Wisconsin, this one began with the arrival of a yellow bus. You see, if the other team doesn’t show then it’s a practice, and tonight we want to play.

Following the arrival of the team are the officials. More than likely they are friends who enjoy the camaraderie of these events, staying connected to the game and those around it. They get paid for what they do, but not a lot. You don’t get rich officiating basketball games.

The shot is off. The ball seems suspended as it closes in on the basket. The gym is silent – no talking, no texting, no scolding, no fretting. As a group we’ve forgotten everything except for what we are about to witness.

School songs are sung along with the national anthem, and at 7:15 the game begins. Basketball is a sport of friction and failure. As fans we watch the events in front of us with a keen eye directed towards the imperfections of all those involved. Failures abound for even the highly trained. As we get deeper into the game, our head is filled with the idea that we hold the key to solving these decisions and those very imperfections.

With less than a minute remaining, and a comfortable lead for the home team, substitutions begin. In time, a young man stands up from the home bench. His name is Zach Peterson, and on senior night he is a senior and a four-year member of this group of boys. His role is a manager, but tonight he is a player.

Zach is special. His teammates love him, and he returns that love. As he moves towards the scoring table to check in, he and the coach cross paths. They talk and smile. One of the seniors comes over to make sure Zach’s warm-up shirt is off before he enters, and with 22.3 seconds left, Zach will play in his very first varsity game.

As the time winds down and the clock closes in on zero, Zach ends up with the ball in front of the home bench behind the three-point line. The shot is off. The ball seems suspended as it closes in on the basket. The gym is silent – no talking, no texting, no scolding, no fretting. As a group we’ve forgotten everything except for what we are about to witness.

I’d like to think the entire “will” of that gym made the ball go in, but it was all Zach. Nothing but net. Those in attendance rose to their feet and cheered, hugged, and cried, and for the briefest of moments, the cynics in all of us disappeared and we were unified as one. You see, Zach taught us something we are not soon to forget. Love for a game without conditions. Humility, compassion, sportsmanship, and joy. In time, the first 35 minutes of this game will grow hazy, but for those who were there, we will be forever united in the lessons Zach taught us.

Editor’s note: In addition to thrilling fans at Bloomer High school on Feb. 25, Zach’s three-pointer made national news. A video of his game-ending shot was featured on cable news channel HLN’s Morning Express program on March 4.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.