Cory Weissman, a senior guard for Gettysburg College who suffered… (Photo courtesy of Gettysburg…)
Looking for a feel-good story? Need something to take your mind off all the seaminess of big-time sports these days? Maybe this story about a humble Division III basketball game between Washington College and Gettysburg will help.
Centennial Conference games don't usually end with the entire crowd on its feet – including both benches -- fighting back tears and cheering like mad for a kid to make a free throw.
But this one last weekend did. This one was as special as they come, mainly because of a classy move by Washington coach Rob Nugent which they'll remember in Gettysburg for a long, long time.
The story begins with Cory Weissman, a senior guard for Gettysburg who suffered a life-threatening stroke after his freshman season. The stroke was so severe he had to learn how to walk and talk all over again.
Now, three years later, after a lot of hard work, he's still on the team. In fact, he's one of the captains. But Cory doesn't play in games. And he does only non-contact drills in practice. His left leg is still weak and balky. No one knows if it'll ever come back.
Now, with last Saturday's Senior Day game against Washington coming up, Gettysburg coach George Petrie and his staff decide to get Cory into one last game. They call the Washington coaches to see if there's a way to work it out.
Together they come up with a plan: Cory will start for the Bullets against the Shoremen. He'll hear his name in pre-game introductions, soak in the cheers, step on the court in a real game for the first time in forever. Then he'll come out after the opening tip.
When Tim Lang, a fellow captain, calls him the night before to tell him the news, Cory's so grateful he can hardly talk.
"My goal all along was just to get back on the court," he says. "Hearing my name announced on the loudspeaker is something I'll never forget."
The plan goes off without a hitch. After the tip-off, Cory comes out and the two teams go at it. Both are desperate. Washington is 13-10, 9-7 in the conference, but has lost three straight. Gettysburg is 9-13, 6-9 and needs every win it can get.
But it's not Washington's night. Gettysburg plays well and the Shoreman struggle all game. It's not a blow-out, but it's close to one.
Now, with under a minute left and his team down 14, Nugent pulls his class move.
He sends assistant coach Bob Hughes over to the Gettysburg bench with another plan: put Cory in and we'll foul him. That way he'll get to the line. Have a chance to score on Senior Day.
"We always talk about doing the right thing," Nugent says. "This was a chance to practice what we preach."
In the huddle, Petrie explains the plan to Cory and asks: "Want to go in?"
Are you kidding? It's like asking the kid if he wants to breathe.
Gettysburg in-bounds the ball, a pass goes to Cory, he's fouled. The place goes crazy. As he walks to the line for two shots, all Cory can think is: "God, I hope I don't miss these."
Everyone else hopes the same thing. The crowd is on its feet, but now it goes silent, practically willing Cory to sink one.
"In sports, you don't always have everybody rooting for one person or one team," Nugent says later. "But in (that) moment, everybody was rooting for Cory Weissman."
Cory takes a deep breath, puts up the first shot, misses. The crowd groans.
"Now the gym's quiet and there's a ton of pressure on him," Nugent says.
Yes, you'd think so. Except suddenly an eerie calm comes over Cory. Now the rim looks as big as a wading pool.
"That was surprisingly the least pressure I ever felt in my basketball career," he says later of that moment. "I thought to myself: 'After three years of hard work and all I've been through, there's no way this ball's not going in."
He goes through his pre-shot routine: bounce, bounce, spin the ball, aim.
The gym erupts. People are screaming, crying, hugging, high-fiving. Cory's mom and dad, his brother and his aunt are in the middle of it, having made the three-hour trip from their New Jersey home. And after Washington scores on an uncontested layup, it's Cory Weissman who dribbles out the clock on the Bullets' 83-69 win, like something out of a Hollywood movie.
"I have to give so much appreciation to the Washington team," Cory will say later, voice thick with emotion.
In the locker room, someone hands Petrie the game ball. This is his 322rd win at Gettysburg. After 23 seasons, he's now the winningest basketball coach in the school's history.
But Petrie knows what to do. He's class, too, just like Nugent. Petrie hands the ball to Cory and says: "This is yours."
"My day would have been perfect and complete just to get in there for those two seconds" after the tip-off, Cory says.
Instead, he got two hours he'll never forget.
And neither will anyone else who was there.