Defying the odds with passion

Basketball: Greater Grace's Nathan Estabrook has made his way back from a mower accident that nearly severed his foot. Today, he is the area's top scorer and among its leading rebounders.

High Schools

January 26, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Jay Estabrook was having a Coke in the home of a friend in Bel Air four years ago when the screams of his 13-year-old son, Nathan, shattered the tranquillity of the afternoon.

"I ran downstairs, and there's my son lying in a pool of his own blood," said Jake Estabrook.

Nathan Estabrook had been mowing a neighbor's lawn when the mower he was riding flipped on top of him and nearly severed his left foot below the ankle. He managed, however, to crawl into the friend's basement.

A crew from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Department rushed Estabrook to Union Memorial Hospital, where his original prognosis after the first of four surgeries was that "basketball was out, he'd be in a wheelchair for two or three weeks and that he wouldn't be able to walk without pain for at least a year or more," according to Jay Estabrook.

But the 17-year-old defied the odds, and today, the Greater Grace High senior shooting guard is the area's top scorer and among its leading rebounders. Greater Grace, which is located in East Baltimore and has a high school enrollment of 125, is 11-6 overall and 4-1 in the Maryland Christian Athletic League.

Nathan Estabrook said "there's a passion to most everything" he does.

Whether it's waking up daily at 5 a.m. for the commute from his Bel Air home to the Crusaders' 6-to-8 a.m. practices at CCBC-Essex gymnasium, or "taking the gospel to the streets on Friday nights" -- as his pastor puts it -- as part of the Greater Grace World Outreach's youth ministry program.

"It's kind of an ugly scar when people see it, but I'm glad it's there. It's a reminder. The injury helped me to grow, build character, strengthened my sense of hope," said Estabrook, who moved to Bel Air from Michigan during the August before his freshman year at Greater Grace.

"My faith, now, it's my life. It's what keeps me going, daily," Estabrook said. "I take nothing for granted now. If I could go back, I wouldn't change anything."

On the court, the 6-foot-2 shooting guard averages 26.9 points -- including a 40 percent clip from three-point range -- and 10.3 rebounds per game. From the free-throw line, Estabrook's a blistering 75 percent to go with 52.3 from the field.

Estabrook can dunk the ball, but his playing skills aren't limited only to scoring: He also averages 3.8 assists and nearly four each in steals and blocks.

"Nathan plays basketball at both ends of the floor, but he's not only a good ballplayer but an excellent student," said coach Pat Lynch. "He's a quiet leader who leads by example."

Off the court, he's got an 1,100 SAT score to go with a 3.8 grade-point average and ranks near the top of the senior class of which he is president.

An off-season knee injury forced Estabrook, a forward in soccer, to miss his fourth season in that sport this past fall. But he says nothing will keep him from the baseball diamond, where the pitcher-shortstop was 3-1 on the mound and batted .357 with a team-leading six home runs.

Western Maryland College already has offered Estabrook a full academic scholarship, but he's also awaiting responses from applications to Johns Hopkins, Towson, Loyola, Villa Julie, Mount St. Mary's and Goucher, among others.

"I'm definitely interested in Western Maryland, but I've got time to consider other options," said Estabrook, 17, who hopes to enter the medical field as a doctor.

"My dream is to play Division I ball, maybe as a walk-on."

Walking normally, however, seemed like a distant prospect not long ago.

A late-bloomer who began playing basketball in fifth grade, Estabrook thought his playing days were over just as suddenly.

"My first thought was not ever being able to play basketball again," said Estabrook. "You sit in the hospital room, asking `God, why me.' "

So severely damaged was Estabrook's foot -- only a quarter inch from being severed below the ankle -- doctors initially thought they'd have to remove it altogether.

The Estabrooks returned to Michigan -- and Beaumont Hospital in Southfield -- after Nathan's first of four operations.

There were two painful surgeries that involved scraping infected bone. The final operation involved a skin graft from Estabrook's lower abdomen.

"At one point, I was really angry. I was going crazy," Estabrook said. "But you can either point the blame or go to God with it. And I had a lot of people supporting me, with the pastor and members of the church."

A basketball, signed by the entire Boston Celtics basketball team, arrived courtesy of a family friend who is chaplain for that team. Soon, Nathan Estabrook's faith strengthened, even in the face of worst news.

"Doctors said that if the foot got infected, they'd have to remove it. Well, it got infected," said Jay Estabrook. "I went in and told Nathan that, despite all the praying, the bone had gotten infected. His response was, `I still believe God is with me, and I'm still going to play basketball.' "

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