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Ferguson’s Final Shot

It was one of those moments that reminds us of why we love sports, especially high school sports, so much. And it was a night, and a shot, that Kenmore West senior Grace Ferguson will never forget. Ken-West “won” the opening tip off. Ferguson took the pass from her teammate, and cousin, Maddie Green. Took aim, but missed her first shot. Green quickly got the rebound, shoveled it to Grace who then drove in for a layup and sank her one and only shot of the night-and the season-before exiting the floor for the night. “It was indescribable,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think anyone could really understand the feeling unless you were in the situation. Even coming out and running out in the warm up I was obviously very emotional because it felt amazing to get out there one last time with my team. And to be able to end on a good note and score and actually be able to be on the court.”

Ferguson, a three-sport star who also plays soccer and softball, suffered a devastating knee injury back in September in a soccer game against Kenmore East. She was told the injury would not only end her soccer season, but very likely the rest of her senior year. News no student-athlete ever wants to hear, especially in their senior year.

But Ferguson handled the news with an uncommon amount of class and composure. “I think it took a long time to actually sink in and hit me,” Ferguson said. “When it did, you just have to learn in life to push on no matter what happens. All though sports have been my life for the past few years you have to learn that there’s more important things. You’ve just got to move on think of other important things in life and find new things to do.”

While the injury and time on the sideline gave Ferguson a new perspective on life, the way her voice trembled revealed how much missing time ripped her heart out. And how thankful she was for this one last time on her home floor.

Though doctor’s told her she was done, Grace Ferguson doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. And, on Feb.16, the Lady Blue Devils Senior Night game versus Amherst, Ferguson got one last chance to slip on that blue and white jersey and step on the floor.

Kenmore West coaches Jeff Martin and Paul Catalano reached out to Amherst coach Mike Chatelle, explained the situation and asked if his team would be willing to go along with a plan of having Grace on the floor for the opening tip off then giving her a free look at the basket so that she could experience the thrill of one last basket on her home court on Senior Night.

“Coach Martin told us, I believe on Monday, that this was gonna happen. Coach Paul Catalano was the one who actually came up with the idea,” said Ferguson. “He was my coach when I first started playing basketball in third grade. So it was just so meaningful to me and just so amazing he would think of something like that. Just hearing that I would be able to do this was such a great thing to hear and I couldn’t be more excited.”

For Chatelle, his answer was a no-brainer. Of course he and his team would be glad to help. “That’s exactly it. Some things are bigger than the game,” Chatelle said. “For Grace to battle back, and hopefully going where she wants to go (for college). I coach (Amherst) softball too so hopefully we’ll see her on the diamonds, too. Like any athlete she wants to be out there with her teammates. So hopefully that made it special. It goes in the box score for her and it’s a memory and I’m just glad we could be part of it. I’d do anything to help.” On paper Amherst was the heavy favorite, and they showed it by cruising to a 57-25 win.

So some critics might say big deal. The Tigers could easily make up those two points. But this wasn’t about points on a board. This was about the love of the game in a young girl’s heart.

Anna Quinlan won the tipoff and got the ball up to Maddie Green, who then passed it to Grace who attempted one of her trademark 3-pointers, but it didn’t ring true. The Amherst players, showing tremendous class, stayed back and let Grace take her shots uncontested. When Grace’s second went in P.A. man Mike Panepinto announced “basket by Grace Ferguson!” West, as agreed upon pre-game, subbed Ferguson out right away as fans cheered and teammates took turns hugging Grace as she made her way to the bench.

For Chatelle, this was also a teaching moment for his girls. To show them that sports is more than just about wins and loses. Chatelle explained Ferguson’s situation to his girls and could not have been more proud of how they saw the importance of this moment and how letting Ferguson have a free look was the right thing to do.

“They got it right away,” Chatelle said. “They wouldn’t want to be in Grace’s shoes. I told them that they need to appreciate their senior years, or whatever year they’re in.”

Though it was killing her not to be on the court helping her teammates. Her sisters. Ferguson showed her true character by being at every practice and every game lending advice and morale support to the team. As well as funny pre-game intro rituals that ranged from kissing Anna Quinlan’s hand to a mock shoe-shine.

Normally breaking the pre-game huddle by chanting “family! in unison. On this night that cheer was replaced by a solo word that is just as important: “Grace!” It was the team’s way of telling Grace how much she means to them and how happy they were for her to have this moment.

“Grace has always been a big part of this team ever since she started,” Maddie Green said. “So I think breaking out and saying “Grace” obviously it showed how important she is. She’s always cheering everyone on. She helps everyone else out as much as she can. She likes to get into drills whenever she can. Overall it was just a great way to end the season.”

Ferguson made incredible progress each week and eventually was able to slowly walk out on the court during practice and take part in shooting drills. Even though Grace wasn’t physically able to play a whole game full speed, the Ken-West coaching staff felt her heart and character deserved something special in return. Especially on Senior Night.

“It was more of a moment for us as coaches than it was for her,” said Paul Catalano. “Because when you get a kid that talented, with that much desire, and working that hard. To have to sit at practice every single day of her senior year and not being able to go out there. I think we did it more for ourselves. I didn’t want to walk off this court without seeing her, one time, putting in two points. She deserves it because of all of her hard work. Hard work pays off, and a great attitude. She’s one great kid.”

Catalano was also quick to thank Amherst for seeing how much this meant to Grace and for graciously going along with the plan.

“That’s a huge thank you to Amherst because not every coach would do that,” Catalano added.

Ferguson also was also very appreciative and humbled by the fact coach Chatelle and his girls allowed her to make this memory.

“I was just so glad that they did something like this and it was so amazing for them to do,” Ferguson said with a smile. “It was just crazy. They really didn’t have to do something like that. To be able to do that and get the assist from my cousin it was a great way to end the season and great way to end the senior year.”

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