One by one, members of the Hopkins boys’ basketball team stepped forward to receive their second-place medals Saturday night at Target Center. Their mood reflected the manner in which they lost the big-school state championship game.
The top-seeded Royals had the title within their grasp, only to see it disappear as Lakeville North, behind a remarkable performance by senior sharpshooter JP Macura, snatched it away in the final minute. That game represented high school sports at their best.
But then came the awards ceremony and the reaction of the Hopkins players. Specifically, a few players removed their medals almost immediately after having them placed over their heads by a state high school league official.
It wasn’t a good look, a high school athlete removing a state tournament medal in disgust. It created an unflattering impression that the perennial basketball power is too good for second place, which, predictably, made social media light up like Times Square because it involved Hopkins.
But then the TV cameras found Hopkins student manager Grant Petersen, a senior born with Down syndrome who reacted as if his team had just won the state championship, the Super Bowl and the Powerball when he heard his name announced.
Grant jumped up and down, both arms raised. Upon receiving his medal, he raised his arms again and flashed two thumbs up to his parents, sister and relatives sitting in the stands.
It was a beautiful moment, a kid overjoyed to get a medal in a sport he loves. Unwittingly, Grant showed all of us what grace and sportsmanship look like.
“I felt so happy,” he said 24 hours later during a visit at his home.
The state high school league should get a copy of Grant’s moment and make it mandatory viewing for every team in every sport. Nobody expects athletes to celebrate a heartbreaking loss in a championship game. Dejection is an obvious, natural reaction. For most of those Hopkins players, that probably represented the lowest moment of their athletic careers.
Hopkins coach Kenny Novak Jr. wasn’t aware that a few of his players removed their medals until Monday morning. He planned to discuss it with his team at its banquet, but Novak noted that his players were flooded with emotion.
He’s right in that regard. Rather than pile on that mistake and belabor it, we should focus on what happened next instead.
Grant’s reaction was such a curveball that it was impossible not to smile along with him. High school sports often provide memories that remain with us years later. Grant gave another one in those 10 seconds of spontaneous joy.
“It’s just pure, uninhibited emotion that he had,” said his father, Jerry.
His reaction didn’t surprise his family. Grant treats big events and trips to the grocery store with equal exuberance. Any outing almost always ends with him asking the same two questions in the car: What was your favorite part? And, did you have fun?
“He has such joy,” said his mother, Monica.
He’s also a basketball junkie. Grant has not one but two mini-hoops hanging in his bedroom, along with posters of Kevin Durant and LeBron James and a framed picture of the Hopkins team.
Grant played basketball in rec leagues and Special Olympics growing up. He hoped to play for Hopkins, but with the help of varsity assistant coach Dale Stahl, he landed a job as student manager.
He became a fan favorite. Hopkins students cheered and gathered rebounds as Grant took shots during halftime of home games. The place went nuts the night he made a three-pointer.
Hopkins players treat Grant as a valuable member of their program. They text him, eat lunch together and come over to his house to play video games. Once, a few players stopped his sister, Alli, in the school hallway and asked her to text Grant so they could all go bowling.
“Everyone knows who he is,” said Alli, a sophomore.
Even more know him now thanks to his reaction in a moment of disappointment. As his family watched from the stands, a Hopkins parent turned around and smiled at them.
“That’s what it’s all about,” the man said.
And that’s what we will remember. A kid who loves basketball and his team made us smile as he celebrated a second-place medal in the state tournament. Two thumbs up, indeed.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org