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Coaches still must be vigilant about safety. Six players did die last fall: three from heart disease and one each from sickle-cell anemia, asthma and heat stroke. In addition, more than a dozen were paralyzed as a result of injuries sustained on the field. "For a 17-year-old, that's really tragic," says Mueller. "But if we work hard, those, too, can be eliminated."
On and off the court, Andy Winders is an inspiration
Before the high school basketball season recedes any further from memory, we should recognize the accomplishments of Andy Winders, a senior guard for Acton-Boxboro (Mass.) Regional High. He scored 19 points a game and led the Colonials into the Division II state semifinals, where they lost to Sharon High despite his 35 points. What makes Andy truly exceptional, though, is that he plays even though he has cystic fibrosis.
Not that Andy considers himself exceptional. He refers to the eight-inch scar down his midsection, a remnant of surgery performed the day he was born, as "a shark bite." He says other people notice his coughing spasms, some of which last as long as half a minute, more than he does. As for his abilities on the basketball court, Andy says simply, "I feel comfortable when the ball is in my hands."
Basketball's arduous pace has proved to be an antidote to the chronic bronchial congestion from which he suffers. The trademark symptom of cystic fibrosis is an accumulation of mucus in the lungs. When Andy plays basketball, much of the mucus is dislodged and coughed up, staving off a potentially lethal lung infection. "Basketball is very refreshing," he says.
Last month Andy played in front of 14,000 fans in the state semis in Boston Garden. He scored 25 second-half points, including Acton-Boxboro's final 18, to narrow a 12-point deficit to two. Alas, with three seconds remaining and the Colonials trailing by two, his pass to teammate Rick Wurster was intercepted, and Sharon won 77-74. At the buzzer, Andy lay down on the parquet floor, exhausted. Over and over again, he said, "I lost the game. I lost the game."
Six days later, Andy was summoned to the principal's office. Waiting for him were an elderly couple who had traveled 40 minutes from their home in Medford, Mass., to meet Andy. They had lost both a niece and a nephew to cystic fibrosis, and the man was carrying a brown paper shopping bag. "I've been waiting a long time for someone very special to give this to," he told Andy.
Inside the bag was a basketball inscribed with the names of the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. Like Andy, they were champions.
The Quill to Win