BY COLLEEN MCALEER
High school athletes have been dealt a tough hand this past year, thanks to the coronavirus, with the winter season in 2020 coming to an abrupt end, spring being cancelled outright, and fall restrictions, as well as shutdowns, all but making a full season possible.
Everyone involved in the lives of these athletes is stressing to the players, “Play each game as if it were your last,” and “You never know when your playing time is over.”
Lackawanna Trail student-athlete, John-Patrick Gilroy, known as JP, can attest to both of those statements with first hand knowledge.
Gilroy, a golfer and basketball player for the Lions, suffered a season-ending injury before the start of the 2019-20 basketball season, forcing him to the sidelines for the entirety of the winter.
“I have been playing basketball my whole life. I would play on a tiny plastic hoop when I was starting to walk,” said the small forward. ” I always played for the school, but during the summer I would go to the basketball camp at the U (University of Scranton). The summer before my sophomore year, I played on the Electric City Volts AAU team. I only did it for that year and I really enjoyed it.”
A student of the game, Gilroy says he doesn’t really have a favorite part of the game, but just has fun all around.
“I get to play ball with my friends at the park and at practices and games. I also get to meet new people, too,” he added.
His basketball coach, Ben Domiano, considers Gilroy a “kind and respectful young man. As an athlete he is a quiet leader and teammate that others look up to.”
The 17-year old from Dalton suffered the first of two massive life changing events in the summer before his junior season.
“During the summer before my junior year, the school’s team had scrimmages against other teams. It was mid July and we were at Riverfront Sports by Scranton. I can’t recall what team we were playing, but it started off as a normal game,” recalled Gilroy. “I don’t remember much, but I do remember driving into the paint and there being a very tall and very big kid on the other team standing there waiting for me. I bumped into him while taking my two steps to attempt a layup. Before I could take it my right leg gave out and the opponent fell on top of me. It was the worst pain I have ever felt.”
He continued, “I got an x-ray done and there was nothing wrong- from what they could see. Two days after my injury, I got my wisdom teeth taken out and they gave me anti-swelling medications. A couple days after that, I visited the best doctor around, Dr. Metzger. When I saw him, I was on the medications (for my wisdom teeth) so when he saw my knee he thought it was just a sprain and I should wait four weeks until I should play again. I didn’t think about the meds I was taking so I never told him. I went to the park with my friends four weeks later and within five minutes, I hurt my leg again. I went to see Dr. Metzger again, got an MRI, and we found out that I had a torn ACL. I was very upset because that upcoming year we were supposed to do even better then the year before.”
Gilroy put his impending surgery on hold, as he wanted to compete in his junior golf campaign.
He explained, “I got a knee brace/sleeve to wear during golf. After the golf season, I was operated on. I got staples in my leg where they operated and I had my leg wrapped up with a straight leg brace on top of it. But hey, I got to miss school for around two weeks. I got all the wrapping and brace off a month later including the staples.”
Shortly thereafter, Gilroy began rehab. He went to Regional Hospital in Scranton because his aunt works there.
“The first couple times I was just working on bending my leg a tiny bit and lifting it up a little. Every day I would do a tiny bit more,” he said. “The worst part was bending my leg because it was so tight that it hurt. But I had to do it to get back to 100 percent. I would do more and more things at physical therapy as the time went by. I would do balancing, training, and leg strengthening and running on a treadmill. My goal was to be ready when I was given the OK by Dr. Metzger.”
Domiano explained the next obstacle Gilroy had to overcome, saying, “During the first week of Phase 3 indoor optional off-season training, JP’s dad passed away. Although I only knew JP for a few months, I wanted to help him in any way I could. As a team we visited the viewing together to show our support. About a week after the funeral, I received a text from JP asking if he could come to the gym and train with his teammates.”
Gilroy said, “My dad was a giant part of my life. He taught me so much and he helped me through thick and thin. I would do everything with him. We would golf, fish, play basketball outside, watch sports together, and play video games too. He was always a hard worker and he would never complain. That ‘never complain’ mindset might have been bad though. Towards the end, I would notice he was always hurting (his back and legs), but he would say it was just the bed he was sleeping on.”
Two weeks before his father Patrick’s passing, they were on vacation and golfing. JP said he knew his dad was hurting because he was sweating badly and he didn’t even finish the round of golf. “That was the day I knew something was really wrong. A week before he passed, my mom forced him to go to the doctors so he did,” he remembered. “They found out he had tumors on his liver and lungs and possibly his spinal cord, and the doctors think he only had one working kidney to begin with. For that last week, he would go and see the doctor and lay down on his bed. I am happy I got to lay down with him one last time and talk to him. The last couple days, we had a nurse come and help us out. She helped my dad live his last couple days painlessly and as happy as possible.”
He continued, “This event had such a big impact on our family. He would always cook dinner for us and he and my mom were always working hard so they couldprovide for me and my brother. I’m sure he is looking down on us and protecting us. I try to live my life as normal as possible just like he was here, because I know he would want me to be happy and do what I love to do.”
Gilroy spoke of how his father taught him how to be a good sport and how to be a good teammate. He told him to always help a teammate up when he’s down and never to complain to the refs because that’s the coaches job.
“My dad made sure I was a good kid, he taught me manners and to never be a sore winner or loser. He always told me to have fun and don’t get stressed when I miss a bunch of shots or if I started a round of golf off bad,” said the son. “When he passed, I didn’t know what to do. I thought about not playing sports for a little but he wouldn’t want me to quit.”
“I know I love basketball and golf, but I thought I needed to take some time off. After a couple weeks, I realized that I don’t want to sit at home all day and do nothing. I wanted to play sports again,” he said. “So now that I’m all healthy and ready to play ball this year, I want to honor him by giving 110 percent on the court and to always be a good sport and to be a great teammate. I wrote on my shoes to honor my father as well. I thank him for everything he has done for me and I hope he is having a good time wherever he is.”
The inspiration behind his message on his shoes, he says, is so his father can be there and support JP during his games.
“Even if he’s not here in real life with me I know he’s there in my heart and watching over me and supporting me,” said Gilroy.
Obviously, Domiano said yes to Gilroy’s return to practices, and told himself to keep the training the same as always and don’t treat it any differently.
“Well, that was easier said than done. JP showed up and started to work in the conditioning. Each player approached him, one at a time, to shake his hand. I was trying to keep the training as normal as possible. I understood how hard it had to be for JP to walk into the gym for the first time after losing his dad. As I looked down at the sole of his sneakers I noticed “I love you dad, miss you dad” written in black sharpie. In my 26 years of coaching I faced many difficult situations and I was never at a loss for words until that day. I had to walk out of the gym so the kids didn’t see how emotional it was,” said Domiano.
He added, “As the conditioning continued, other players noticed as well. When we finished, I asked the guys to bring it in. I asked, who was going to take us out? JP stood up and said, ‘Me.'”
Domiano also noted that everyone on the team is aware of Gilroy’s ability, and they understand the obstacles he is dealing with and remain supportive.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and high school winter athletes are awaiting the call to return to winter practices.
“When COVID started, my rehab place was closed down but they gave me workouts to do at home to continue my rehabilitation. I would do everything I could to keep on track with my knee strengthening,” said Gilroy. “COVID hasn’t affected me as much as it has to others. I don’t mind this online school thing. It sort of spices up what I know as school. I would be very disappointed, though, if our basketball season is cancelled, especially after missing my junior year due to the injury.”
After battling uphill to regain his strength- both physical and emotional- Gilroy was introduced to his new head basketball coach, Domiano.
Gilroy is looking ahead, and plans on attending college for math education, so he can teach and become a golf or basketball coach for whatever school I go to.
“I don’t know where I want to go yet, but I do know I am prepared to play both or either sport for whatever college wants to accept me,” he said.
Domiano added, “I am writing a letter of recommendation for JP because he had every opportunity to fold and give up. He decided to do the opposite. I know he has good and bad days and that is expected.”
After Gilroy’s return to basketball practice that first night, Domiano pulled him aside.
The coach said, “Later that night, I told JP ‘There are guys that try to be leaders, and then there is you, a natural leader. I cannot even imagine how difficult it was for you to come tonight, but you did, and every guy on this team looks up to you because they trust and respect you. They feed off you. As a coach there are not many guys, I would go into war with. I can honestly say I would choose you in a heartbeat. We will get through this together. I promise. Keep being yourself.”