One Leg. ALL HEART! By Rick Reilly

05.13.11 6 years ago 49 Comments

It’s hard to remember why we love sports sometimes. Mark McGwire? More like Mark McLiar! And I’ll BCin’ ya, BCS!

But then… then you come across the story of Ripon College sophomore Danny Jennings.

You see, all Danny wanted to do in life was play basketball. Think YOU love hoops? Well, Wild H-O-R-S-E-S couldn’t drag Danny away from the game he loved! The boy would spend hours every day shooting free throws. Would stay out in the driveway all day until his mother chased him inside after dusk. He even came home during lunch every school day to practice his alley oop passes. You talk about LOBsessed!

But there was something that made Danny different from all the other kids in school. You see, Danny was born with just one leg. YOU TALK ABOUT HOPS! But you’d never hear about Danny’s ailment from him. He didn’t want any favors. Any pity. And when he was cut from the Oak County High School team, he told everyone he deserved it, because he wasn’t good enough. Let’s see Michael Jordan handle a cut that well!

But here’s a funny thing about anyone who ever doubted Danny: He may only have one leg, but he’s ALL HEART! Think Usain Bolt could make 200 straight free throws in the span of an hour? I think he’d end up Bolting! And Ripon College basketball coach Hart Newman was one of the few people to see it. That’s why, when he noticed team manager Danny Jennings making free throw after free throw before practice one day, he rightfully assumed Danny could add a little… SPRING to his team’s step!

And so Newman decided to do something that everyone else thought was crazy. He put Danny on the team. Made him the 12th man and the free throw specialist. You talk about Ripon up the rulebook.

Finally, just one week ago, it happened. Ripon was playing DePauw. Tie game. Three seconds left. Ripon forward Dave Pierce drives the lane and is hacked by DePauw center Malcolm Eddy. Flagrant foul. Two free throws.

That’s when Newman looked down his bench. Down at his team’s former manager. Down at the boy who had never played organized basketball until this moment. Down at the boy who had one leg, but the determination of twelve men. So he called on Danny to ice the game. Just call him Cool Jennings!

Danny calmly hopped to the free throw line. Sure, some people giggled. But no one was giggling when two perfect throws left Danny’s hands. After all, he’s got two of those.

He sank the free throws. Ripon won. And on this night, Danny didn’t even need his one leg, because his teammates decided to carry him out of the gym. Funny how that works. The boy with one leg was now floating on air.

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