81° F Saturday, June 24, 2017

By Kyle Gregory

Correspondent

Last Friday night with 45 seconds remaining in his team’s final home game, Kaleb Karczewski was at the free throw line preparing to take his first shot as a Cavalier.

“When I first went in, I was extremely nervous,” Karczewski said. “I mean, I hadn’t been in a game since eighth grade.”

Karczewski suffers from spina bifida, which has impeded the development of the muscle in his left leg.

“I played in middle school, and I could play with anybody,” he said. “I played with the A-team and could run up and down with them, but eventually when it came to high school, everybody started to surpass me. I decided to work on trying to become a coach; so I became a manager.”

Karczewski has served as the Cavaliers’ manager for the past four seasons and was named the District 25-4A Student Assistant of the Year by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches for the 2011-12 season.

Coach Clint Baty describes him as a “staple of the program.”

His teammates knew that if they could mount a big enough lead against visiting Friday, then Karczewski would have a chance to enter the game.

“He wasn’t originally going to play, but we got a big lead,” junior Luke Hutton said. “That’s what we were trying to do; we were trying to get him in there to score at least once.”

In the third quarter, when the Cavs had a comfortable lead, a coach told Karczewski that there was a jersey waiting for him in the locker room and that he should go suit up.

He entered the game in the fourth quarter, where he took a few shots and eventually drew a foul and ended up at the free throw line.

“They fouled me with 45 seconds left, and I went to the free throw line,” Karczewski said. “I missed the first one because I hadn’t shot the ball all day.”

Hutton added, “When he missed that first free throw, the whole crowd was on their toes, and you just heard a big gasp. Everyone was thinking, ‘He better make this.’ ”

As he stepped to the line to take his second shot, Karczewski had no doubt that he would make it.

“I knew that second shot was going in right as I released it,” Karczewski said.

“The stands were chanting his name and, when he made that second shot, the place erupted,” Baty said. “It’s a great story for somebody who works behind the scenes and doesn’t get out there on the floor. Our kids were so excited for him, and we were excited for all of our seniors that night.”

The moment was not only special for Karczewski, but also for his teammates.

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced playing basketball,” Hutton said. “It was awesome just to have him out there and score. Our whole community was there to cheer him on. It was just an awesome atmosphere.”

“That was special,” senior Stefan Vidovic said. “Kaleb is always there for us. I know that if he could play, he’d be the first one out there every time.”

With his career managing the Cavaliers coming to an end, Karczewski is heading to the University of Kansas next year, where he hopes to work as student assistant to the basketball team and learn under coach Bill Self.

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