In the fourth quarter of a 30-point win, Ryan Gallagher delivered the most emotionally charged moment of the season for the Newton North High boys’ basketball team.
For four years, Gallagher has dutifully served as Newton North’s team manager, helping the Tigers set up for practices and making sure the players had what they needed on game days. But coach Paul Connolly gave him a uniform — No. 30 — for the team’s Senior Night as it took on Norwood on Valentine’s Day.
Late in what was eventually a 72-42 win for the Tigers, Connolly approached Gallagher on the bench, told him to have fun, and put him in. Seconds later, he delivered.
On the team’s second offensive possession with Gallagher on the floor, he ran a play the team runs all the time called “Utah,” weaving between screens set by his teammates. When Liam Bruno found him at the top of the key beyond the 3-point line, Gallagher stepped into the shot and drained it.
The sound was deafening.
It is a moment that now lives on, to be watched over and over again on YouTube. Senior Hector Coscione was in the stands that night as part of Newton North’s “Sixth Man” student section, and used his cellphone to record a video of Gallagher’s moment.
“It was like an earthquake. It was like a roller coaster,” he said of the crowd’s reaction. “We had heard Ryan would be dressing, and we had a great turnout. We were a little impatient because we wanted to see him play. We were chanting ‘We want Ryan.’ Coach Connolly would sub in someone else and we’d say ‘That’s not Ryan.’ We were all just really excited.”
The play was something the team worked on the previous day, but Gallagher had missed the few attempts he was given. Connolly knew he wanted to give the senior, a special education student at North, one more chance with everyone watching.
“Anybody who was in that gym will never forget it as long as they live,” Connolly said. “It was a great moment for our school, but for Ryan, too. I’m just proud of Ryan for how he’s embraced by the school, and for how hard he’s worked.”
About a week before the game, Connolly mentioned to Gallagher that he might dress on Senior Night. Gallagher could barely contain his excitement, gushing to friend and team captain T.J. McNicholas on rides home from practice.
“He was ecstatic,” McNicholas said. “He’d ask me in the car, ‘What number should I wear? What do you think I should do when I get the ball? Do you think I’ll score?’ He grabs the rim all the time in practice, so he asks me, ‘Should I dunk it?’ ”
Gallagher was not in school the day after his basket, and he was on a family vacation in Florida last week. But when he returns to the halls at Newton North, he’ll likely get a king’s welcome.
The school was buzzing about his shot the following day, and students had posters made showing Gallagher being carried off the court by fans, his arms raised in the air to make the sign for a made 3-pointer.
Phil Perry can be e-mailed at paperry27@ gmail.com.