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COLUMN: Falls City's Ethan McConnell demonstrates leadership, sportsmanship in act of kindness

Ethan McConnell is the leading scorer on the Falls City boys basketball team, and one of its best players. Above all, though, he's a leader. So what McConnell did last week in the Mountaineers' season-opening contest on the hardwood at Mapleton High School wasn't surprising.

Falls City’s Ethan McConnell has led the Mountaineers all year as the lone senior in both football and basketball.  An act of sportsmanship in a game last week showed what his character is all about.

Photo by Nicole Watkins

Falls City’s Ethan McConnell has led the Mountaineers all year as the lone senior in both football and basketball. An act of sportsmanship in a game last week showed what his character is all about.

December 05, 2012

Ethan McConnell is the leading scorer on the Falls City boys basketball team, and one of its best players.

He's the best ball-handler, so he plays point guard.

He's probably the team's best shooter.

He was also the Mountaineers' all-everything player in football, the only returner with any significant varsity playing time and the team's lone senior. He led -- sometimes at quarterback, running back or lineman -- a young and inexperienced squad through thick and thin during a trying season that saw Falls City win just one game in 2012.

Above all, though, he's a leader.

So what McConnell did last week in the Mountaineers' season-opening contest on the hardwood at Mapleton High School wasn't surprising.

That's just Ethan.

"He's the type of kid that gives all of his effort, makes the right choices, helps out the little kids ... he's just a class citizen and really a great role model to come out of this school," Falls City boys basketball coach Sean Burgett said. "You wish you had 10 of him."

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With a couple minutes remaining in a Nov. 28 contest at Mapleton, Falls City's chances at a victory were well out of reach.

So, as both teams emptied their benches, Mapleton junior Davan Overton took the floor for the first time.

Overton is not your typical high school athlete.

After having a tumor removed from his head when he was young, Overton suffers from a disability that leaves him with "spot-on intelligence, but causes him issues with gross motor skills and coordination," Mapleton Athletic Director Aaron Longo said.

"He's limited in a lot of basic skills that we take for granted," Longo added.

Burgett said that Mapleton's head coach, Adam Decker, approached him before the game to alert him of Overton's condition, should he get into the contest.

Burgett passed along the information to his team as a heads-up to ensure Overton's safety, and when the Mapleton guard checked in, he shot a few times.

But none would fall.

McConnell, still in the game, understood what was happening.

"They were just trying so hard to get him the last shot," McConnell said. "I wanted it for him, too."

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Ethan McConnell, far left, shares a laugh with his Falls City teammates during Thursday’s game.

Photo by Nicole Watkins

Ethan McConnell, far left, shares a laugh with his Falls City teammates during Thursday’s game.

With just seconds remaining, Overton took what he thought was his final shot, saw it miss, and then started to run back on defense.

That was until McConnell, ball in hand, called his name.

"I knew his name, so I called him because he was about to run back," McConnell said.

"I just didn't have a second thought once I got his rebound -- I gave him the ball."

With the buzzer to end the game about to sound, Overton heaved one final try -- a 3-point shot -- that went down with a swish.

What happened next was the amazing part.

"The place went nuts," Burgett said. "(Overton's) parents were crying, saying thank you to Ethan. It was quite a moment."

Longo, who was running the clock for the contest, said that Mapleton's principal and superintendent were also in attendance.

"They expressed to me that it was one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship that they had ever seen," Longo said. "We want to give thanks for his positive attitude and being able to put people above himself."

Apparently, it meant a lot to Overton, too.

"All he could talk about (Thursday) was hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer," Longo said.

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McConnell scored 22 points in the Mountaineers' eventual 67-42 loss to Mapleton, and chipped in another 15 in Thursday's setback to Livingstone Adventist at home.

He fouled out with about four minutes to play Thursday, and as he sat on the bench watching his young teammates play without him, he didn't sulk in disappointment.

Instead, he called out tips, helped teammates during timeouts and smiled when Falls City's George Hillebrand nailed a 3-pointer to score a team-high 21 points.

"He's a good guy," Hillebrand said of McConnell. "He means everything -- he keeps our team together, keeps us through the game even if we lose or win. He's our team leader."

McConnell just hopes he can lead -- one more time -- a young team in the right direction.

"They've definitely surprised me in these first few games," he said of the Mountaineers, who feature one junior and three sophomores in their starting lineup.

"They have so much to learn and so much time to play, I just hope they can grow."

With a leader like McConnell, the Mounts -- win or lose -- have nowhere to go but up.

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Nicole Watkins is the Sports Editor for the Itemizer-Observer. She can be reached at nwatkins@polkio.com or 503-623-2373.

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