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Eden basketball playing for sick teammate
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 • Posted March 11, 2009

San Angelo Standard-Times

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Eden boys basketball team has one of the best records in the state, and John Wesley Gierisch is one of the biggest reasons for that success.

But when the Bulldogs put their 27-2 record on the line last week in their first playoff game, Gierisch wasn’t in the starting lineup or even in the arena.

The high school junior was lying in a hospital bed in San Antonio unable to move.

Gierisch was diagnosed last week with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an extremely rare, life-threatening disorder that can cause sudden paralysis as the body’s immune system attacks its nervous system.

Gierisch played in Eden’s playoff warmup game last Monday and seemed fine at school Tuesday, said Eden boys basketball coach Chris Short. By Wednesday morning, Gierisch couldn’t walk.

Encouraging news has arrived since that shocking diagnosis. Gierisch had some movement in his extremities over the weekend and is expected to eventually make a full recovery, Short said.

But the rest of the Eden basketball players were shaken by the sudden absence of their teammate and friend. On top of the emotions they were feeling, they had two days to prepare for their first playoff game with a new lineup.

It showed as the Bulldogs quickly fell into a 14-2 hole Friday against San Isidro.

What followed was an incredible rally - and a buzzer-beating game-winner - that the Bulldogs dedicated to Gierisch.

After erasing a seven-point deficit with about 1:20 remaining, Eden fell behind again by a point with six seconds left. The Bulldogs raced down the court and lost possession, but a jump-ball call gave them one last chance with 0.2 seconds.

With its season on the line, Eden went to an unorthodox play it had practiced all season.

Bobby Bednar inbounded the ball by lofting it over the backboard to a leaping Chris Ogle, who tipped it in at the buzzer to set off a wild celebration as Eden moved into the regional quarterfinals with a 60-59 win.

It was an uplifting ending to a difficult week.

“It was real emotional,” Short said. “In the six years I’ve been here, we always break out of a huddle with ‘Defense.’ (When we were down by seven), one of the seniors stepped up and said ‘1-2-3 John Wesley.’ So it was one of those things.

They took it upon themselves, and they reached down and found something.

“I’m sure a lot of people thought the game was over, but they just found a way to fight back and pull it out.”

Short said the Bulldogs had run the quirky game-winning play several times this year, but never in such a critical situation.

Bednar said there was never a doubt in his mind Eden could save its season with the play.

“When it was down to 0.2 seconds, I see No. 30 (Gierisch’s jersey number) hanging up on the chair and I said, ‘Here goes a prayer,’ and it was answered,” Bednar said.

After the shot went in, “it was chaos,” Bendar continued. “Everybody knew that was kind of a heartbreak game whether we won or lost. That game meant more to us than any other game ever will, because it was the 30th game, and that’s his number.”

Bednar is one of three seniors who stepped up in a huge way to fill the void left by Gierisch. Bednar scored 24, Kenneth Kincheloe had 19 and Ogle had 14 as they combined for 57 of the team’s 60 points.

Kincheloe hit a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left to give Eden a one-point lead before a foul on the ensuing full-court pass led to a pair of San Isidro free throws.

“Kenneth hit that 3 from outside, and that’s normally John Wesley’s shot,” Bednar said. “When he knocked that down to put us up, we knew something special was going on there.”

Short said Gierisch was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game. He was also the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-5, doubly dangerous since he could shoot so well from outside.

All emotions aside, it was difficult to adjust without Gierisch on the floor, Short said. Freshman Kris Maggellan was elevated to the starting lineup in his absence.

“We kind of had to restructure our offense,” Short said. “It was a tough week for me, and I can imagine how it is for these kids. They’re such a family and get along so well. When you take one of your puzzle pieces out and a great kid, it’s tough.”

Eden will now take on Knippa at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Ingram in a third-round playoff game. Short is hoping this week will be easier than the last.

“Knowing this kid is doing a lot better, I’m hoping we’re more relaxed,” Short said. “I think we were real nervous. We were in uncharted waters last week. Those three seniors were bench players a year ago.”

Guillain-Barre syndrome affects only 1 out of about every 100,000 people. There is no known cure, but it can be treated. It affects everyone differently, so the recovery period can last from a few weeks to a few years.

Bednar said the Bulldogs would like to keep giving Gierisch playoff wins to help his recovery.

“I’d feel more confident if we had John Wesley with us, but it’s kind of motivation,” Bednar said. “The only way he’s getting better is how his mental state is. We know every game we win is another plus in the book for him.

“I hope we can go the distance and take care of it. He’d love nothing more than to see a state championship.”

John Wesley Gierisch is the grandson of Junior and Velma Gierisch of Mason.

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