SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
I have a soft spot in my heart for Mom. Always have. Always will.

Zach Ingles has a soft spot for his mom, too.

Who is Zach Ingles? He’s a basketball player for the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, an otherwise nondescript team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 years.

Zach’s clutch 3-pointer with 22 seconds left from roughly 26 feet delivered the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to Eastern and sent them to the Big Dance.

But there’s another aspect to the story that makes it especially appropriate to share on the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Here’s a synopsis of the story from ESPN.com.

When Zach was 12 years old and wearing an NCAA Tournament T-shirt, he told his mother, Cynthia, that he was going to play in the tournament someday.

That night, as a sixth-grader playing in an eighth-grade league, Zach had the game of his life. He scored about 50 points, including 17 in a row at one time in the game.

Zach’s dad, Kent, the coach at Greenville High School, normally watched games from courtside. For some reason, he chose to sit in the stands next to his wife that night.

It was the last game Cynthia Ingles ever saw. The next night, she died in a car accident and her daughter Libby was critically injured.

Zach was stunned. He sat on the lap of his 17-year-old sister Jessica and sobbed, repeatedly saying, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

After taking a few games off, Kent returned to coach, then spent every night at the hospital where Libby was in a coma. Zach took his refuge in the gym, spending hours shooting baskets by the hundreds, and sometimes just sitting in solitude and thinking.

The family finally got some good news when Libby awakened from her coma. Her first two words were, “Where’s Mom?” Kent said, “You never saw a room clear so quick. It was left to Jessica and I to tell her.”

Sports helped the family move forward. It gave them an outlet.

Zach’s dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament became more important because he had told his mom, “I’m going to do this.”

Playing for his father, Zach scored 2,230 points in his high-school career. Even though he averaged 25.5 points per game as a juco sophomore, recruiters were lukewarm.

Zach’s junior college coach told Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford at a juco tournament, “I’ve got a kid who can just score.”

“I like scorers,” said Ford, who was a prolific gunner in his high school days.

When Zach hit the basket to send Eastern Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament, his dream was realized. A promise had been kept.

But that’s just one piece of a triumphant Ingles family comeback story.

Libby is the true miracle. At first, they feared Libby would not live. Then they feared life in a vegetative state. Then they were told she wouldn’t walk. Then they were prepared for a life of limited mental capacity and menial jobs.

Now, Libby is on course to graduate from Western Michigan this spring.

“Miracles do happen,” Kent said. “One’s already happened, many times over. Lib wasn’t supposed to live.”

If you visited Zach’s college apartment, on his desk you’d find a framed note of a mundane message from a mom to her son. He rediscovered the note a couple of months after his mom died and has kept it ever since.

She had left it for him one day when he got home from school, telling him that she wouldn’t be there, but had left him a snack in the fridge.

The note said one more thing: She’d be at his game that night, watching.

Jessica Ingles thought of the note on Zach’s big night in Nashville and was sure: “She was watching.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

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