Desert Chapel Eagles help autistic player score in CIF title game loss

Desert Chapel Eagles help autistic player score in CIF title game loss

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Desert Chapel Eagles help autistic player score in CIF title game loss

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PALM SPRINGS

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Alfonso Alvarez’s cell phone wasn’t able to take any more messages.

His Facebook page continued growing by the hour with congratulatory notes.

(VIDEOS: Desert Chapel Eagles players speak out | Eagles participate in inspiring story)

Hundreds of emails flooded his inbox with heartfelt outpouring.

His team lost in the CIF championship basketball game on Saturday as a 16-game winning streak came to a screeching halt. But all of those messages — sent from as close as Santa Ana to as far away as Saudi Arabia — were all about how his Desert Chapel High School team emerged as winners, champions in their own right.

It was what the Eagles did in the final 40 seconds of the title game against Trinity Classical Academy of Valencia that has pulled at heartstrings.

“All we wanted to do is let him score,” said the Eagles third-year varsity coach.

That one request to his team has now renewed faith in the true spirit of sport. His tiny Palm Springs school was trailing by more than 20 points to last year’s CIF Division VI runner-up and Alvarez knew that Trinity coach John Brooks wanted to be sure everyone had a hand in the Santa Clarita school’s first-ever CIF basketball title.

In came 5-foot-6 freshman Beau Howell, an autistic student who had appeared in nine games for the Knights. In those games, however, he’s never scored a single point.

“I called a timeout and told the kids to let him score,” said Alvarez, whose son, Taner, took the lead in assisting Howell in what has become national news from “Good Morning America” to “ABC World News” and NBC’s “Today” show with more than 200,000 views of that final minute available on YouTube. “They were gonna win. They came in with a higher power. They were inspired. They had Beau.”

Desert Chapel, however, had something of its own. An immense display of character and class that often goes awry when the game is on the line.

The fans inside the Godinez High School gym erupted, both sides of the gym chanting, “Beau, Beau, let’s go Beau.”

With less than 59 seconds to go, Howell missed his first two attempts before the timeout. Then with 40 seconds remaining and Alvarez dribbling, he let the ball fall into Howell’s reach at midcourt. The freshman followed Alvarez’s lead as the Eagles’ senior captain pointed toward the basket. He told him to shoot from there, but missed. His Knights teammates were waiting for the rebound under the basket, tossed it back and Howell tried again. Another miss. Alvarez then inched closer, pointed to a spot, Howell obliged with the shot and scored.

In it went for the first two points of his career in the biggest game in school history. Howell raised his arms in delight in the 77-52 victory.

“I just told him to move up and he gave me that look like, ‘No one has ever done that for me,’ ” said Taner, who was dumbfounded when Howell told other media outlets after the game that it was Taner, not Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, who is his favorite player. “No one on our team knew about him. We just knew something was happening, all the people were cheering.”

The gymnasium went crazy. Both benches emptied. There were hugs, high-fives and celebration. No tears from the losers, just tears of joy for the winners — both of them.

An Internet frenzy began with the two schools being contacted by national media and well-wishers, all as both were preparing for Wednesday’s Southern California Regional Tournament, an all-state qualifier.

“When coach called the timeout, we knew it was for something big, not something that would end up worldwide,” said senior Roman Pellum. “No one ever let him score. He doesn’t have the opportunity like us, and I knew it would change his life.”

Knights coach John Brooks is still in awe of what happened.

“I believe what has made this particular play and story so big was the setting of the championship game,” Brooks said. “The fact that coach Alvarez called a timeout and Taner continued to give the ball back to Beau was truly remarkable. What makes the gesture so profound in my opinion after reading numerous articles on Desert Chapel before we played them is that coach Alvarez seems to be very competitive. For coach Alvarez to do such a gesture was an incredible act of sportsmanship and kindness to our team, fans and particularly Beau.”

Taner was humbled by all the accolades, but said when it happened it was just a spur-of-the-moment gesture. He looked into the stands and saw people crying.

“There were tears in the eyes of everybody I saw — even my dad,” he said. “It was our biggest game-winner.”

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