One of the best moments of Rhode Island’s winter high school sports season was remembered and celebrated again on Thursday morning.
It was another sign that it’ll be remembered for a long time.
On a Friday night in February, Coventry High School basketball team manager Cole Campbell donned a uniform for the first time. The son of head coach Tom Campbell and the younger brother of senior captain Tom Campbell Jr., Cole is living with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic condition that can cause a combination of serious symptoms, including seizures. For Cole, it also kept him off the competitive basketball court.
But on the team’s Senior Night against Cranston West, he was there, playing alongside his brother. He made four three-pointers, sending his teammates, the crowd, even the Cranston West bench into a frenzy. Video of Cole’s performance hit the internet and took off.
Norm Kelly and Laura Clarizio of the Metta Students Foundation took notice, and on Thursday, they visited Coventry High School with checks in hand. The Foundation, which celebrates acts of kindness by Rhode Island high school students, presented the Coventry and Cranston West basketball programs with $1,000 grants each, while saluting the sportsmanship and graciousness that made the special moment possible.
“I’m a big hoops fan and I know some of the boys from the Cranston side,” Kelly said. “When I heard about this story, it really kind of lit me up.”
Kelly presented the awards at an assembly in the Coventry auditorium, with both the Oakers and Falcons on hand. Awards went to both teams not just because the Falcons helped make it possible, but because they celebrated right along with Cole.
“Everyone looks at athletics as only wins and losses, which is fine to a certain degree,” West head coach Jim Moretti told the crowd. “However, it is moments like that evening in February that define it as much more.”
Cole made his entrance late in the game. He got a shot up moments later, a three from the top of the key, and buried it.
As shot after shot continued to swish through the net, emotions bubbled over in every corner of the gym.
“To be in a high school basketball gym and see everybody rooting for the same thing, that doesn’t happen very often,” said Coventry coach Tom Campbell.
Campbell had discussed the plan with Moretti before the game. The Falcons’ job was to be gracious, give him a chance to shoot. Their reaction – standing ovations, high-fives – made the night even more special.
They were nearing the end of a 1-17 season, but they were part of something bigger than that.
“I sat down with Coach Moretti before the game and told him what I was thinking about doing,” Campbell said. “Coach Moretti, being the class act that he is, right away said, ‘Yes, we’ll get this done.’ The time came, we put Cole in. To see how his team behaved is beyond words. To look past what was going on on the floor was amazing. The moment, not the score, became important. When I watch the video now, I watch Cranston West and watch them jumping up and down. It was a special moment.”
Coventry principal Michael Hobin said he called West principal Tom Barbieri the next day to offer his thanks.
“I was as proud of the Cranston West basketball team and its fans, as I always am of our teams,” Hobin said.
The Metta Foundation’s leaders felt the same way. The non-profit, which was created in 2012, typically gives out $1,000 grants to one student every month. When the basketball story came along, it was an obvious time for an exception.
“When I told Norm about this story, he agreed that this was a no-brainer,” Clarizio said. “Both teams deserved it.”
Players, coaches and school officials all expressed their gratitude Thursday and got another reminder of how much their night in February continues to resonate.
“Obviously it was a special night,” coach Tom Campbell said. “How big it became was way beyond my imagination. I was just trying to have my sons play a basketball game together for once in their life, and it turned into this.”
Added his son, Tom, with a laugh: “I was hoping he would just get a shot up.”
Cranston West junior Mike Rossi recounted what he and his teammates were thinking that night, one of their last games in a rough season. They expected just another game, he said.
They got a moment they’ll never forget.
“The confidence, courage Cole had was amazing,” Rossi said. “He taught me one thing that night – that anything’s possible.”