The greatest thing I have ever seen

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This past week, I received some upsetting news: Greg Carson had passed away. Greg was a beloved family member, a Special Olympics athlete, a member of the Diversified Opportunities family and a friend to all. Simply put, he was a favorite. Ten years ago, I wrote the following column about Greg. On the day of his funeral service, I thought it was worth sharing again. I hope it brings a smile to your face. That was Greg’s specialty.

A couple of weeks ago, I was coaching third base during a Little League game and I witnessed a 10-year-old make one of the most spectacular catches you would ever want to see. It was a screaming line drive up the middle that he snared while being completely horizontal to the ground.

You would not see a better catch if you were at Yankee Stadium. It was Sports Center worthy, no doubt. Fans from both teams just stood up and clapped.

The catch got me to thinking. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some of our youth do some amazing things. Some of them are athletic achievements; some are just pure acts of friendship and youth. They are all very special.

I’ve seen kids make their first basket in basketball. I have seen a tee-baller stop on first base and empty his pockets that were full of rocks. I’ve seen 3-pointers at the buzzer to win the game. I’ve seen kids almost kill each other on the soccer field and then share a juice box afterwards. I’ve even had an extended conversation with a 5-year-old about his planned future as a security guard at Walmart.

I’ve had kids bring me their report card to show off how they have done. I’ve watched a group of kids organize their own kickball game. I have seen the difference in a kid’s confidence after completing a tackle football season. I’ve seen kids go under the water for the first time during swim lessons. I have been at the game when you could recognize at a particular moment that a certain kid had a future in that sport.

To be honest, I could go on and on about great things our kids have done, but I wanted to pick out my favorite all-time moment and share it with you. I keep coming back to Greg “Bulldog” Carson. Greg was a Special Olympics athlete with Downs Syndrome and never met a person he couldn’t befriend. He was the first sub off the bench on the middle school basketball team we took to the state tournament in Greensboro.

Greg pretty much spent most of the early games running 3-point line to 3-point line with a big grin on his face and occasionally stopping to pick up his white headband that kept popping off his head. He was not worried about the ball, defense or the score. He was, however, worried about what we were going to eat after the game.

To make a long story short, we somehow managed to make it to the championship game. I noticed sometime during the middle of the semifinals that some good basketball was going on, and teams were really trying to win. It was getting serious. We were playing our archrivals from Johnston County, who had beaten us in previous qualifying games. They had blown us out, to be honest. We played out of our minds and kept the game close.

Greg played some defense a couple of times and even managed a couple of rebounds. With about 10 seconds to go, the score was tied and they had the ball out of bounds. We set up our defense for the inbounds play, and our point guard, the only female on our team, forced a turnover by their point guard. He slammed the ball hard down on the ground and before it landed, the referee had called a technical foul. As a side note, she had refused to dance with him the night before at the annual big dance, and I think he was still a little “put off” by that.

I called timeout to let things settle down and looked at our team. They were tired, nervous and had given it all they had. This had turned into something a little more than a friendly Special Olympics basketball game. I had underestimated the competitive nature of this team and this tournament. They wanted this win badly. To be honest, I was as nervous as I had ever been in a sporting event, and I was not really sure whom to ask to shoot the free throws.

And then I heard Greg say: “Coach, Coach. Let me shoot. Let me shoot.”

Now, I must explain. Greg had not even hit the rim in the nine games we had played, much less the bottom of the net. I was very surprised he even knew some free throws were coming up and seriously wondered if he knew what he was volunteering for.

“Coach, I can do it.”

He was pulling at my shirt now and I already knew what needed to be done. I looked around at the rest of the team and they confirmed my decision. I was going to let Greg shoot the free throws and hope we win in overtime. I could not have been more wrong. I will remember the next couple of moments the rest of my life.

Greg “Bulldog” Carson rolled up to the line, took three dribbles, and absolutely drained his first free throw like he owned the joint. The place went nuts and Greg jumped about two feet in the air. Greg then further added to his growing legend by shooting his second free throw so high and hard it hit the painted high school logo on the wall 20 feet behind the basket. It did not matter. When the final horn went off seconds later, our team celebrated like no other team had ever celebrated a gold medal.

Now, let me tell you something, the shortstop’s catch was spectacular, but Greg’s free throw is the single greatest thing I have ever seen.

RIP Greg. Keep smiling, hugging and loving up there in heaven. I know you will.