Monday, March 30, 2009

Rooting for the 'Cats with eyes on a Tar Heel

Like many Philadelphia area residents, I'm a Villanova basketball fan. They're always the team with the heart, the spark, the special quality that makes people smile when they win. While I don't join in the March bracket-Madness, I think college basketball is one of the most entertaining and unpredictable sports, and Villanova with Scottie Reynolds doesn't disappoint.

But Saturday night's upcoming matchup will be a little tricky for some people in this area. We want our Super Nova to blaze, but there is a particular North Carolina starter that we also claim as our own.

Tar Heels Number 22 Wayne Ellington grew up in Amity Gardens and played for Daniel Boone Area High School as a ninth grader before transferring to Episcopal Academy, where he shone in the classroom as well as on the court.

With this week's appearance in the Final Four, I am reprising a blog entry I wrote a year ago.

Saturday night brings the best of both worlds: Favorite Philly college team plays favorite hometown high school hero. That's why they call it madness.

Like every sports mom, I have sat through chilly spring evenings watching T-ball, on hard bleachers cheering through basketball, bundled against the fall winds during football, and idled away the time against a wall during gymnastics and ballet classes.

My sons both dreamed of being NBA stars until they stopped growing several inches shy of 6 feet. They have long since moved on to pursue other dreams.

While that is the case with most sports moms and future sports stars, there are some right here in our own backyard that keep growing and keep honing their skills until they're on the way to superstardom. One of the starters in the Saturday night Final Four showdown is one of those young men, an NCAA star who once ran up and down the court at Amity Elementary School, then just another player on a youth sports team, albeit the tallest kid on his team and the highest scorer.

Wayne Ellington is introduced when he takes the floor as number 22 for the North Carolina Tar Heels from Wynnewood, Pa., a graduate of Episcopal Academy and one of the most promising prep players in the national class of 2006.

But long before moving to the Main Line, he lived here, went to Amity Elementary, and then started showing his basketball potential in Daniel Boone Middle School and as a freshman starter for Daniel Boone High School before transferring to Episcopal.

Ellington was in fifth grade and my son Scott in fourth, playing on the same team. He was already a class act, playing with grace and talent, and their team under Coach Ferris was undefeated that year.

But, sports moms have seen lots of class acts give up the game or discover other pasttimes or move on to other things in life. It is still rare to know someone who played with your own kids to reach the elite group of Final Four teams or the NBA.

When Ellington is introduced at the start of a game, when he scores at a crucial moment, I have a proud flashback moment.

He was the tall 10-year-old playing forward when my scrappy 9-year-old brought the ball down the court and passed it to him. Inevitably, Ellington would pass it back and give the little kid a chance to score. Like I said, a class act that we will be watching Saturday night against a classy team. Plenty to smile about in this Final Four.


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