A Night to Remember: Kearsarge Senior Goes Out in Style With Emotional Basket
Jeffery Stewart, 18, goes for a shot during his debut start on Kearsarge’s varsity basketball team Friday nght, Stewart was born with a rare metabolic disorder known as Cobalamin G Disease and is developmentally delayed. With the support of his friends, fans and family, Including his grandmother and step-grandfather, who came from Maine, Stewart took the court to start In his first varsity game. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)
Jeffery Stewart, 18, talks with a friend in the bleachers before his debut start on Kearsarge’s varsity basketball team Friday night, during their home game against Newport. Stewart started the game by scoring the game’s first basket. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)
Jeffery Stewart, 18, center, jokes with teammates before the start of his first game on Kearsarge’s varsity basketball team Friday night during their home game against Newport. Stewart was born with a rare metabolic disorder known as Cobalamin G disease and is developmentally delayed. In front of a full house Friday,, Stewart took the court to start in his first varsity game. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)
North Sutton — JEFF STOOOO-WAAAART!”
And with that announcement, bold and loud and booming through the tightly packed gym Friday night at Kearsarge Regional, Jeff Stewart, as his name is really spelled, had entered the varsity score book.
Fist bumps, chest bumps, hugs and high-fives followed, along with music from the school band, tears, smiles and a sense of one, of community.
Jeff was born with something called cobalamin G deficiency. His mother, Tina Desfosses, says normal vitamin B intake creates an acid in her son’s cells, stunting cell growth and requiring daily injections of synthetic vitamin B.
She says Jeff is “developmentally delayed,” on the level, at age 18, of a third-grader.
So at Seniors Night, an annual celebration honoring the seniors before their final regular season game, Jeff was singled out, too. Lebanon native Nate Camp, the Cougars varsity coach, worked it out, coordinating his plan with Carter Malpass, Jeff’s coach on the freshmen team, athletic director Scott Fitzgerald, the referees, the Newport High players, and, in a tasty nugget to this story, the opposing coach.
His name is Steve Lavolpicelo, and he happens to be a 1999 Kearsarge graduate and one of the best players in state history, finishing with a school record of 2,372 points.
He liked the idea, right away.
“(Camp) asked me about this when we played them earlier this season,” Lavolpicelo said. “I was on board immediately. It was awesome being there, and I was honored to see the sheer joy on his face.”
Added Camp, “We knew going into the night it was special for the seniors, so with Jeff, there was tons of energy in the gym. It was the perfect storm for Kearsarge.”
Not entirely. Kearsarge lost by three points, blowing a nine-point lead late in the third quarter. Also, Jeff struggled to hit his team’s first basket, after Newport was permitted by the Cougars’ defense to sink its first shot.
Jeff missed four straight, all in close, each eliciting a groan from the capacity crowd. Finally, Jeff softly put one in, creating the aforementioned explosion, before leaving to a standing ovation, replaced for the remainder of the game.
In a sense, though, wasn’t this a microcosm of Jeff’s life, a snapshot of his determination and spirit?
Miss four shots?
This kid keeps going.
He’s been fighting since birth. Tina noticed a bloody rash at five days old. Jeff wasn’t eating, nor was he sleeping. He spent three months at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, diagnosed with a rare illness.
“I was scared to death,” Tina said. “You couldn’t know how scared. I was happy that they finally found out what it was, because that was the worst part of this whole thing, not knowing.”
The news, though, wasn’t good.
“Jeff was supposed to be blind at 3,” Tina continued. “Jeff was supposed to be physically disabled. He was not expected to do very well.”
He fooled everyone. Sure, there were tough times. Bullying has surfaced now and then, and in fact Tina says a kid on the school bus recently threw some verbal jabs Jeff’s way. One of Jeff’s friends, Tina adds, was right there, pushing right back, defending his friend.
“Kids stick up for him,” Camp said. “This community embraces everyone.”
The freshmen team gave Jeff confidence. His playing time increased through the year as his skills developed. But the team struggled this season.
“Jeff’s been an inspiration for our whole team the entire year,” Malpass said. “The glue that keeps us together. We lost 11 games in a row, and no matter what, no one was down, and Jeffrey was the biggest voice on the team, by far. Everyone rallied around him, made sure he got open shots and made sure to encourage him, and by the end he was one of our team captains.”
And by the end of the varsity regular season, he was the focal point among focal points. Tina and her husband, Randy Desfosses, were there. Judy and Ron Turner, Jeff’s grandparents, made the two-hour drive from Maine. Jackie Collins, Jeff’s personal care provider, was there, too.
They watched Jeff sit with the varsity in the bleachers during the junior varsity game. During the pre-game ceremony, Tina and Randy waited with Jeff in a corner of the gym, along with the other seniors, his varsity teammates, and they watched him sprint through a narrow path on the court, formed by two lines of junior varsity players.
They returned to their seats, Tina holding tulips wrapped in cellophane, and they watched the introductions of the starting lineup.
Jeff was the final starter named. He sped through another tight corridor of players, this one formed by the varsity reserves, his arms spread like wings, his hands slapping the hands of his teammates on each side.
“It’s bittersweet,” Tina would say later. “He’s an amazing kid, happy through his whole life, but he’s going to miss all of this.”
Jeff seemed unfazed.
“There’s a lot of stuff I love about basketball,” he said. “I’m going to miss my friends. I’ll come back to see them, check on them, see how they’re doing.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rayduckler.)