This is a story about an extraordinary young man whom I have come to know, love, and admire for his courage, determination, and strength of character. His name is Ryan Anderson. Against all odds, in front of a jam-packed home crowd on Feb. 14, the senior and captain of Johnston High School’s varsity basketball team, #23, dazzled his fans by .
My kids and I have become avid Johnston Panther fans this year, largely due to watching Ryan chip away, game after game, towards his coveted 1,000. Only six other players at JHS have had the honor of claiming such a monumental achievement. Anderson, who named his journey "The Road to 1,000," endured numerous setbacks — beginning with knee surgery last year, and then tragically tore his ACL in his other knee during a game at Warwick Vets on Jan. 9.
Although my family wasn’t at that game, as soon as it happened, my daughter’s friends immediately began sending her texts: “I don’t want you to get too worried, but Ryan was just taken out on a stretcher!”
Needless to say, we were beyond worried! This was devastating news! Not only were we extremely concerned about his physical well-being, we were also worried that any chances for his dream to come true may now have ended.
In case you didn’t know, we Panther fans are a close-knit bunch! Word traveled quickly that Ryan was hurt, and JHS kids texted and tweeted about him all night long: “Everyone! Please pray for Ryan!”
I am not sure, to this day, if Ryan realizes just how many people were asking for some kind of divine intervention for him that night, —and for all the days and nights that followed.
Prayer can be a powerful thing. So can the tremendous force of the Johnston community pulling together to support “one of our own."
The emotional highs and lows of this basketball season for Ryan, his family, his friends, and his teammates have been quite intense. Ever since the
season began, everyone has been on a wild emotional rollercoaster ride
together — cheering him on, giving him pep-talks, offering words of encouragement, and feeling his pain.
Everybody loves Ryan! He may very well be one of the most well-liked guys at Johnston High. He is a loyal friend, a great team leader, respectful, and kind. He is the sort of kid that any parent would be proud to have for a son. He, of all
people, definitely didn’t deserve to have his dreams dashed because of an
untimely and unfortunate injury.
All of us who care about Ryan refused to believe that this was the end of his dream —it couldn’t be — it WOULD NOT BE!!!
As a casual observer, you would never know that Ryan has been dealing with constant pain before and since his ACL tear. The pain is always there, but he has never let it stand in his way. He keeps a straight face despite it all. Even after suffering an extremely painful experience when his knee buckled during a game while wearing his leg brace, Ryan remained at that game, lying down and propped up on the sidelines icing his knee.
Through it all, Ryan’s dad, Dave, his coaches, friends and teammates continued to encourage him to do the best he could. The team, under the leadership of Head Coach Steve DeMeo, rallied behind Ryan. Everyone would watch with bated breath each time Ryan came out on the floor during a game to play with a slight limp.
Instinctively — collectively — we would all wince when a player on an opposing team would be too rough near him. His friends in the stands, who could get away with it, would shout out to players who were pushing or hanging on Ryan to “BACK OFF!”
Protectively, I, too, secretly wanted to shout "Leave him alone!" but instead I kept quiet and let his friends take care of business. On the court, fellow teammates kept unruly opponents in line, too. During one game, Panther team mate, Evan Hopson, was heard saying “OY! OY! Don’t touch my boy!” I had to laugh when I heard that! It was just one more indication of how much these kids care about one another.
So, needless to say, there was quite a build up to the Valentine's Day game. Many more prayers were said, and well-wishes made. JHS cheerleading coach Susan Parrillo and her daughter, Tiffany, who is one of Ryan’s best friends, made a countdown poster beginning with 12 that had numbers that could be torn off with each point Ryan scored. My daughter, Alia, had the honor of tearing them off throughout the game.
The energy in the school gym was palpable! All Ryan’s family and friends made a special point of being there.
This was the night we had all been long waiting for! The news media — Joe Hutnak of Johnston Patch, The Insider, The Sunrise, and Channel 12 were all present.
Even with all the hype and attention, Ryan seemed cool as a cucumber. He is apparently very good under pressure and seemed totally prepared to go for the 1,000!
That night, the Davies Career and Technical team wasn’t cutting Anderson any slack and kept surrounding him, boxing him in, making it impossible for him to shoot. Fellow Panther teammates Paul Burrows and Evan Hopson aggressively hustled to keep the Davies’ players at bay to free Ryan up. In the style of a true hero, Ryan kicked things into overdrive and rose to the occasion by banging away at the remaining 12 points all within the first half of the game!
The fans went wild as he put the ball through the hoop for that one final historymaking shot! As thunderous applause filled the gym, his friends rushed the floor and surrounded Ryan, embracing him, rejoicing in his victory!
It was truly a scene right out of a movie and a moment that will be
forever seared in the hearts and minds of all of us who traveled along with
Ryan on his Road to 1,000.