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BENSON — A Thursday night trip over to West Johnston High School for a game the Wildcats hosted against Clayton yielded the strangest experience I’ve ever had at a basketball game. It included the ejection of a former NBA player and two fans, six-consecutive free throws, an impromptu speech that temporarily halted the game and a ill-timed promposal.
This weird sequence of events all started when Clayton senior Mason Rusch was fouled in the waning minutes of the first quarter. It was a routine foul call, but shortly after it was made, West Johnston head coach Chucky Brown — a former N.C. State hoops star, 13-year NBA veteran and 1994-95 NBA champion with the Houston Rockets — got into it with one of the referees along the sidelines.
This is what you can consider the catalyst for these 20 weird minutes I experienced while standing against the back wall behind the baseline taking pictures.
Suddenly, a technical that can be pretty ordinary became much more.
For whatever was said, Brown was then awarded an initial techical foul. After a brief conversation, which included a sarcastic thank you from the coach to the referee, the referee walked away from Brown, but Brown continued talking in his direction. Another referee came over to mediate the issue, but some choice words resulted in another techincal foul and an ejection for Brown. This riled up the home crowd, which would be important later.
On his way out of the gym, which came with a law-enforcement escort back to the locker room, Brown could be heard telling the referees to get all of their belongings out of his office. I know this to be true because I was standing nearby as it all unfolded. It appeared that at halftime, school personnel had to relocate the valuables of the officials from where they were to another safe location.
When play resumed, Rusch attempted six-consecutive free throws — all which he made. Two were for the foul, and four were for the technicals to Brown. Six free throws was weird, but it only got weirder. The six-point swing all but closed out the first quarter, but the second would bring more questionable behavior.
Early into the second quarter, a fan sitting on the first row, which I assess to be in his mid-50s, started heckling the referee who had given Brown his first technical. That fan was promply ejected and removed, but before law enforcement could even escort him out of the building a fan sitting much higher on the same side threw a plastic bottle at the referee.
The heave missed the referee and rolled over to the Clayton bench. As I looked up at the stands to see where it might have come from, a woman stood up and raised both her arms up in the air, presumably to identify that she’d been the one.
When she was asked to leave the gym, she flambouyantly made her way down to the floor. When she got there, she stepped onto the floor of the court and raised a middle finger high toward the visiting crowd. Then the woman, no high-school aged team, was taken out.
I wish I could say this was it. It wasn’t.
School officials from West Johnston and Clayton were both called to the scorers table, where they discussed, along with the referees, how to proceed. After about 10 minutes, West Johnston Principal Jennifer Swartz grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd.
“Please make sure there is nothing else that is thrown or put or pushed on this floor because this is the safety of our kids that we’re talking about,” Swartz said as part of her comments. “We need them to play this game. Are we good?”
Soon after she stepped off the court, play resumed and the game got back to normal.
But not long after it did, a West Johnston student with poor timing and wearing his heart on his sleeve came bounding down the sidelines with a poster in his hands. Written on it, he had a pointed question for one of the Wildcats’ cheerleaders. Prom?
Everything returned back to normal after that. Let the abrupt ending of this column serve as a symbol of the speechlessness I felt after all I’d witnessed.
Oh, by the way, she said yes.
Jack Frederick is the sports editor for the Johnstonian News. Reach him at email@example.com