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Jonathan Montanez passed Mitchell Marcus the ball
Jonathan Montanez passed Mitchell Marcus the ball

Jonathan Montanez passed Mitchell Marcus the ball

It was a perfect night, a perfect game, a perfect act of sportsmanship and a perfect two points.

A last-minute turnover may go down as one of the classiest gestures in El Paso high school basketball history.

With 13 seconds left in a rivalry game, Franklin High’s Jon Montanez passed the ball to an opponent, Coronado High’s Mitchell Marcus.

It was no error.

Mitchell, a special-needs student, stood stunned at what Montanez had just done. Montanez simply told him, “Shoot it, it’s your time.”

It was the type of moment movies are made of as Mitchell scored a last-second shot in a 55-40 victory on Tuesday. It was his first, last and only high school game.

His parents, Clement and Amy Marcus, cried.

His coach, Peter Morales, got chills.

Franklin Cougar fans cheered.

Coronado T-Bird students stormed the court and went wild.

And Mitchell, 18, basked in high school glory as his fellow students carried him off the court.

“Tears immediately came to my eyes, and it was just pure emotion,” Clement Marcus said. “I’ll take it to my grave. It was a community coming together. Forget the high school rivalry.”

Amy Marcus stood in awe as the Coronado students carried her son on their shoulders like a sports superhero.

“I truly could not believe it when that happened,” she said. “It was like an ocean wave engulfed him. Then we see them lift him up. Unforgettable.”

Mitchell, a senior, has been one of the most loyal T-Birds on the Coronado boys’ basketball team as a manager — the guys who pick up balls, take players water, gather up warmups and do all the jobs players don’t do.

“They are like family to me,” said Mitchell, who has been a team manager for four years. “I love basketball.”

From the first game this season, it was just as much Mitchell’s dream to win a District 1-5A championship as it was the team’s and his coach’s.

He was such a big part of the team that Tuesday, as the players were preparing for their season finale against the rival Cougars, the players began to ask Morales whether Mitchell could suit up.

“I was already a step ahead of them,” Morales said. “He earned it. Just to suit out was a great thing for him.”

Morales told Mitchell during the daily shoot-around that he would be wearing No. 24, the same number as Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

“He was just bubbly in the car going to the game,” Clement Marcus said.

Because it was the last regular season game, the team’s seniors were honored before the game, and each one was given a game ball. Mitchell stood with the four other seniors.

“Just putting the jersey on was big enough for him,” Amy Marcus said.

But Morales and his players had a more ambitious goal: Mitchell was going to play, and he was going to score.

“It was senior night, but it was more Mitchell’s night to shine,” senior David Velasco said. “We knew we needed to get a lead big enough so he could play.”

With one minute, 30 seconds left in the game, Coronado led by 10 points. It was a lead, but any basketball fan knows 90 seconds is enough time for a few quick 3-pointers to erase it.

An undefeated District 1-5A record and championship would not be the same without Mitchell. Morales sent the senior into the game to a thunderous ovation.

“I really trust this team with big leads and small leads,” Morales said. “I knew they were going to take care of Mitchell. I knew they were going to help him score.”

As soon as Franklin got the ball, Coronado went on the attack. Coronado players told Mitchell to go to the other side of the court and get into his sweet spot so he could shoot.

As Mitchell waited for his moment, the T-Birds played four-on-five defense against the Cougars.

“We knew they were just going to jack up 3’s,” Velasco said. “Our goal was to play D(efense), get rebounds and get it to Mitchell.”

After a Franklin miss, Coronado’s players got the ball into Mitchell’s hands, and he arched the ball for a 3-pointer and almost made it.

“My heart skipped a beat,” Amy Marcus said.

She wasn’t the only one.

“My eyes were watering up,” Clement Marcus said. “I was screaming and as loud as anyone else.”

At that point, the Coronado gymnasium rang as both T-Bird and Cougar fans chanted “Mitchell, Mitchell.”

Franklin and Coronado went back and forth two more times as the clock quickly wound down. Mitchell did not run back and forth and waited for his time.

With 13 seconds left, Velasco grabbed a rebound and fired across the court to Mitchell, but the ball slipped out of his hands and out of bounds.

The ball belonged to the rivals.

Without coaxing, without greed, Montanez simply gave the ball to Mitchell.

“I just told him, ‘Shoot it, it’s your time,’ ” Montanez said. “I was just proud for him, that he actually got to play and get his first varsity basket.”

Mitchell shot and missed, but Velasco was there to rebound not one, but three shots, each time feeding the rebound to Mitchell. Franklin players stood back and watched the drama unfold.

With about a second left in the game, Mitchell nailed it.

As the clock hit zero, the fans ran onto the court and to Mitchell. “They were running past me, jumping over chairs, I was just trying to get out of the way,” Coach Morales said.

Those who remained in the stands were overcome with emotion.

“To see the Franklin players do that for him was just, well, there are no words for it,” Amy Marcus said. “It was the most amazing moment of my life.”

On the Franklin bench, Cougars coach Todd Bostic was proud of the character his players showed.

“It just shows that basketball is just a game,” Bostic said. “There are so many other things that matter more than the game. That moment was bigger than the game.”

Both Bostic and Morales had storied high-school careers and have begun their coaching careers with success. Both said Tuesday night’s game will never be forgotten.

“Living your dream doesn’t happen to a lot of people,” Morales said. “To see the fans chant his name and cheer for him is something that we may never get to see again.”

Bostic said Franklin students and teachers told him they were moved by the moment.

“There are only a few moments that I haven’t forgotten from my playing days,” Bostic said. “I can guarantee I’ll never forget that moment with Mitchell as long as I live.”

As Montanez walked off the court, Coronado fans congratulated him for his class act.

“All the Coronado cheerleaders came and told me ‘Thank you,’ ” Montanez said. “I was just joyful that Mitchell got his chance.”

Mitchell got one more standing ovation after the game at a Taco Cabana. Once the Marcus family got home, he was still on cloud nine.

“We got home and he was in the shower singing,” Clement Marcus said. “I fell asleep with him still singing. It was a perfect night.”

Mitchell ended the 2012-2013 season with two points, one rebound, one steal and a district championship.

“I love it; we needed the district title,” Mitchell said. “I was very happy we won the game.”


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    One comment

    1. Harry Pendleton

      Thank you for this story. We need more great news in the midst of all the horrible news stories we see now.
      To all the teammates on both teams…..Way to go Guys !!!!! You make me very proud of our young people. Please continue to do great things for your fellow man (and women) 🙂 Together you can make this world a much better place to live.

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