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Pavilion: Hoops with heart



Teddy Schwytzer scores two points for Pavilion in a soul-stirring display of spirit, sportsmanship



By Scott Pitoniak

Democrat and Chronicle columnist


(February 20, 2004) ? Nothing he did before had ever shown up in a newspaper box score. There are, after all, no statistics tallied for towels distributed or stray basketballs placed on a ball rack or smiles evoked from players and coaches you regard as brothers.


So there really was no way for Teddy Schwytzer to quantify the four years he had spent as the student manager of the Pavilion High School varsity boys basketball team.


Until Wednesday night.


That?s when the senior with Down syndrome who has devoted so much time to assisting others finally received an assist.


Teddy, thanks to the generosity and compassion of Caledonia-Mumford center Rick Riggi, scored one of the most memorable baskets in Section V history ? a simple lay-up in the waning moments of a 28-point loss that had the feel of a half-court, buzzer-beating heave.


When Teddy?s ball kissed off the Plexiglass backboard and through the iron cylinder with about 15 seconds remaining, players, coaches and fans from both schools went bonkers in Pavilion?s gym.


The scene was something out of Rudy or Rocky.


Goosebumps sprouted.


Spines tingled.


Tears flowed.


Teddy Schwytzer had finally gotten his name into a box score.


?It felt so great,? said Teddy, a Special Olympian who competes in several sports. ?It was one of the best moments of my life.?


?I?ve been in loud gyms before, especially when we?ve played our traditional rival, LeRoy,? Cal-Mum coach Dan Dickens said Thursday afternoon. ?But I don?t think I?ve ever heard a crowd that loud. I don?t think any of us who were there will ever forget that moment. It was very special and very emotional.?


The scoreboard said the winner was Cal-Mum by a 75-47 margin. But the real winner, as Teddy?s mom, Peg Schwytzer, said, was ?the human spirit.?


Sportsmanship isn?t dead after all.


Pavilion coach Rob Milligan had been contemplating this moment for some time. He loves Teddy. His players love Teddy. The fans love Teddy.


Milligan wanted to give him a gift he would cherish forever.


?I wanted him to feel what it was like to put on a uniform after picking so many up,? he said. ?I wanted him to feel what it was like to be out there playing in a real game. I thought it would be the perfect way for us to thank him for all he?s done for the program. That he wound up scoring was icing on the cake.?


Milligan mentioned his plan to Dickens before the game, and the Cal-Mum coach was all for it. Milligan, to his credit, was going to make sure it happened even if it meant sending him in during crunch time of a close game.


As it turned out, Cal-Mum had the contest well in hand by the time Teddy took the floor with about three minutes to go. Pavilion?s strategy was pretty obvious at that point: Get the ball to Teddy so he could score.


The Red Raiders knew the objective, too, and they were hoping it would happen.


Teddy fired up several three-pointers, including two that barely missed. As the clock ticked down, a Pavilion player failed to convert three shots in close. Riggi, a mountainous, 6-foot-4, 285-pound center, grabbed the rebound. Instead of passing to his teammates, he handed the ball to Teddy, who laid it in for the score.


Among those fighting back tears was Teddy?s hero ? his big brother, Andy, who had made the four-hour trip from Canton in the North Country.


We hear so much about overzealous coaches and apathetic kids, insensitive fans. But Wednesday in a packed high school gym in a game of little consequence, we were reminded how good sports can be.


We saw coaches and players and fans with their hearts and their minds in the right places.


It didn?t take a half-court heave or a 360-dunk or a no-look pass to grab our attention.


Just a simple handoff from the biggest kid on the court to the littlest kid on the court.


Teddy Schwytzer finally got a chance to feel what it was like to score a basket.


For the rest of his life, he?ll be able to tell people he once played varsity basketball.


And if they don?t believe him, he can show them his name in that box score. The proof is right there in black and white.






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