Somehow, Burbank guard Mark Nielsen managed to score 18 points Friday night on the road in a 60-58 win over Burroughs, a cross-town rival, in front of a noisy, standing-room-only crowd of 1,500.
His most vocal supporter wasn't there. Nielsen played anyway.
"He needed to," said his mother, Sylvia Nielsen. "He needed some kind of release."
Tuesday night, Nielsen's grandfather, Dan Curtis, suffered a heart attack minutes before Burbank's Foothill League game against first-place Schurr. Curtis, 76, was in critical condition at Burbank Community Hospital on Saturday afternoon.
By all accounts, Curtis is the Bulldogs' biggest booster, and the news of his illness hit the team hard.
"He would be there in time to watch the freshmen at 3 o'clock," Burbank Coach John Downum said. "And he'd still be there when the varsity game ended. He'd sit up there in the same place at the top of the bleachers in his Bulldog T-shirt. He'd bring his lunch and something for Mark in case he got hungry.
"He was at every game, at home and on the road."
Curtis, a retired Glendale police lieutenant, was stricken approximately 10 minutes before the start of the Schurr game. Nielsen's other grandfather, Wilbur Nielsen, was sitting with Curtis and called for help. Mark Nielsen accompanied his grandfather to the hospital.
"I didn't even want to coach," Downum said. "If I could have done it, I would have postponed the game."
Instead, Downum told the team to play the game for their fallen fan.
"He told us, 'It may sound corny, but let's go out there and win it for Mark's grandpa,' " Burbank's Mike Nash said.
Picking up the slack for Nielsen--the team's leading scorer--Nash scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds as the Bulldogs upset Schurr, 53-46. Coupled with Hart's loss to Alhambra on Tuesday, Burbank clinched a playoff berth with the win. But for Nash--a close friend of the Nielsen family--there was more at stake.
"At first, my reaction was that I didn't want to play," Nash said. "I'm really close to Mike and his grandpa. But as it got closer to game time, I realized that more than anything, he would have wanted us to go out and play our hardest."
During the game, when breaking from huddles after a timeout, the team chanted "1-2-3 grandpa," instead of its usual "1-2-3 Bulldogs."
At Friday's 60-58 win over Burroughs in the regular-season finale, seven members of Nielsen's family were in attendance, including Mark's older brother, David, who drove down from school in San Luis Obispo.
"David told Mark he was here to take grandpa's place," Sylvia Nielsen said. "He told Mark just to try his best."
Taped mouth: Kennedy Coach Yutaka Shimizu did not wish to speculate Saturday on the chances of Thursday's 32-31 loss to Fairfax being replayed--or if he really wants that to happen.
Trailing, 32-29, Kennedy's Cord Bailey made a jump shot with seconds left to tie the score. The trail official signaled for three points, and the points were posted.
Fairfax immediately inbounded the ball, passed twice, and took a desperation shot that missed. After the buzzer sounded, the officials conferred, and examined a video replay of Bailey's shot provided by a Los Angeles cable television company. The officials then ruled Bailey's feet had made contact with the line and a point was taken away.
"What I really want is for these officials to be reprimanded," Shimizu said. "It's illegal to use the video. They talked to each other and then looked at the replay. If they decided to take the point off the board, they didn't tell the coaches or the scorekeeper until after they saw the replay.
"They are saying otherwise, and that's not true."
Because City Section schools are on a four-day vacation and Kennedy plays its last Valley League game Wednesday before starting the first round of playoffs Friday, it is unlikely the game will be replayed. Shimizu's written protest will not be delivered to City administrators until Tuesday.
A City official indicated Friday that there is a chance the appeal may not even be accepted.
"If they let this go through I'm going to bring a camera to every game," Shimizu said. "It's ridiculous."
Kennedy has nothing to gain either way. The Golden Cougars have clinched third place at 7-4--even if the Fairfax game is replayed and Kennedy won, the Golden Cougars would not benefit.
Add replay: Mike Scyphers can relate to the Kennedy situation.
"I picked up the paper, ran to my wife and said, 'You gotta read this,' " said Scyphers, the Simi Valley baseball coach. "She read it and said, 'Boy, it happens all the time.' "
Scyphers, who also is a college basketball official, found himself driving the memory lane. Last December, he was in a similar predicament during a game between Santa Barbara and Long Beach city colleges.