RUMSON, N.J. – Every now and then we’re reminded of everything that’s good about sports, with events occurring that reinforce the importance of the lessons athletics can teach us all.
They don’t happen nearly as often as they should, but if you were in the gym at Rumson Fair Haven Regional High School for Senior Night on Thursday you witnessed something you won’t ever forget, as dreams once thought to be impossible were realized, and sportsmanship beyond what anyone could expect was on display.
Because when Jack Velcamp, the manager of the Bulldogs boys basketball team for the past eight years, who overcomes dwarfism every day of his life, drove to the hoop and made a layup with 3:49 left in the first quarter, all of that and more conspired to produce one of the most important baskets anyone who was part of the sellout crowd has ever witnessed.
It’s hard to know where to begin on this one.
Perhaps the best place to start is with Rumson Fair-Haven head coach Chris Champeau, equal parts tactician and showman. He gave his seniors a rousing sendoff, deciding a while back that Velcamp, who stands 4-foot-2, deserved to play his first game for the Bulldogs, and would start against Holmdel.
It was Champeau’s latest, most powerful statement about inclusion, with the first coming when he invited Velcamp to be their manager when he was in the fourth grade.
Then there were the Bulldogs’ players, the latest class to embrace Velcamp like a brother. It was a night for all the seniors to shine, but they made it extra special for Velcamp, who competed for the United States in basketball last summer at the World Dwarf Games in Canada.
And none of this would have happened without Holmdel head coach Sean Devaney and his players understanding how important this moment was to a young man, a family and a town. They may have ultimately come out on the short end of a 62-50 decision, but they produced the most inspiration, poignant performance of the season.
After the game, Velcamp, who was emotional throughout the pregame ceremonies, in which all the team’s seniors were introduced, before he was announced in the starting lineup, was humbled by the experience, and thankful for the opportunity.
“It was sick. I was waiting eight years,’’ he said. “And throughout those eight years I have been through so many teams, so many athletes I’ve learned so much from and I applied everything I learned here tonight.
“And this group in general, I know we’re seniors but we have such a tight bond, that’s what makes it special. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anybody but them. They hype me up, they love me and it’s just insane. Coach Champ, I love him because he gave me an opportunity to play tonight, My family, they have been through a lot, my brother (PJ), he’s been helping me train ever since I found out I was going to start.’’