There’s few things more aggravating to a newspaper journalist than getting beat to a story by TV. That’s especially true today, in this post-literal-all-social-media-all-the-time age when too many people get their immediate news high from quick-hit, superficial digital media; why bother taking the time to read a well-crafted story with context and nuance when you can absorb the big bits in a 30-second clip from YouTube?
Last week I got burned twice, in 24 hours.
The first story is one I’ve been sitting on for months, holding off because I was asked to due to its sensitivity. I was confident I would eventually get it, but I was also respectful of the situation.
Then, it showed up on TV.
The other was one of those viral moments that newscasts like to feature because they make people smile or gasp and absolves them of having a reporter or video journalist on the payroll who could otherwise fill that 30-second time slot.
Usually I dismiss such stories, as they tend to flare up and then burn out quickly; such is the half-life of electronic news these days. But this one happened right in our backyard, and I sensed there was likely more layers to the story than the post on Twitter that lit the fuse could summarize in 140 characters.
In such an instance, you’re playing catch-up right out of the gate. That the story caught fire late on a Friday and we don’t work weekends made it doubly difficult.
Should I even bother? I wondered. After all, such stories inevitably become about the number of views the viral video got because viewers love that kind of data and it doesn’t require a lot of manpower or time to tell.
But as the weekend went on, I burned to know the rest of the story. Driving to the office, I resigned to playing catch-up but I was determined to tell the story better, and in a way that would hopefully resonate with our own community.
Reid Demelo was excited to get the opportunity to take a shot in a high school basketball game.
But the Grade 12 student at Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody never imagined his moment of sporting glory would be seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. That it would capture the attention of local TV stations and national Canadian and American networks — including CBC’s The National and CBS Sports. That it would spark an effort by his schoolmates to get him on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Demelo’s shot, arcing through the air just as time ran out in the Kodiaks’ opening game of their own ninth annual Kodiak Klassic senior boys’ basketball tournament last Thursday wasn’t a winner. (Heritage Woods beat the Kitsilano Blues handily, 79-45.)
It wasn’t Demelo’s only basket of the game — he had sunk another shot about 20 seconds earlier.
It wasn’t even the first time Demelo had come off the bench from his usual role as team manager to get a chance to play — he’d had a similar opportunity last season.
But that shot was so much more than all of the attention it’s getting.
It was, said Heritage Woods principal Todd Clerkson, a celebration of the power of acceptance and inclusion amongst young people.
“Reid knows everybody,” he said. “He brings people together.”
Demelo has Down syndrome.
His life revolves around sports. In addition to playing basketball, he swims competitively, participates in track and field and ultimate, and he’s on the Team BC Special Olympics training squad for speed skating. He also fills water bottles for his younger brother’s academy hockey team at Burnaby Winter Club.
Last year, Demelo took on a similar role with the Kodiaks senior boys’ basketball team.
In addition to keeping the players hydrated or handing them a towel to dab their sweaty brows, he’s also a tireless booster, said Kodiaks coach Greg Schellenberg.
“Reid is such a positive individual,” he said. “He’s got such a great spirit about him.”
So when the throng of more than 1,000 students that traditionally fills the bleachers for the home school’s lunchtime opener began chanting “We want Reid! We want Reid!” in the game’s waning moments, Schellenberg knew what he had to do.
He affirmed his notion with co-coach Roj Johal, then called a timeout with 35 seconds on the clock to talk to the Kitsilano coach, Sylvester Noel, who gave his blessing.
Demelo got the nod but, as a team manager, he doesn’t have a jersey.
So teammate Morgan Liski loaned him his #11, which Demelo pulled on over his maroon “We are Kodiaks” t-shirt.
Demelo, a point guard who has been playing basketball with the Tri-City Youth Basketball Association — where his mom, Jana Demelo, is also a coach — since he was in Grade 2 and takes every opportunity to shoot hoops with his high school colleagues during practice and at home in his driveway, said he was excited and nervous to get on the court.
“I came out flying,” he said.
Demelo got his first touch of the ball after Heritage Woods regained possession from the Blues on a rebound. He scored.
A few moments later, the Kodiaks were able to wrest the ball away again. Viktor Glogovac made a pass behind his back to Demelo, who corralled it then planted his feet just beyond the three-point line. As players from both sides watched in anticipation, he launched a perfect rainbow. The game-ending buzzer sounded just as the ball crested.
And then, bedlam.
The bleachers emptied in a wild celebration. Demelo’s teammates chased him to the opposite end of the court, where they embraced their manager in a bouncing, roiling dance of unbridled joy.
“That was the best moment,” Demelo said, adding he was thinking of his best buddy, former Kodiak star Zach Hamed, who’s sitting out his first year of basketball eligibility at the University of Victoria this season and was in the crowd at Heritage Woods last Thursday. And he said he thought of the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, the NBA superstar he’d like to meet someday.
Clerkson said it was an apt moment because everybody at the school knows and loves Demelo.
“Reid is just so genuine. He supports all the events at the school and the kids appreciate that,” he said, adding Demelo was presented a special Spirit of the Kodiak award last year for his positive contributions to Heritage Woods and his fellow students.
“Nobody embodies that spirit better,” Clerkson said.
“It was an incredible moment to be there and experience it,” Schellenberg said. “It showcases what a great community we have at Heritage Woods that’s so supportive.”
Monday, with the principal handling a steady stream of media requests, Demelo was free to accept the smiles, high-fives and hugs of nearly everyone he passed in the halls between classes.
It’s “awesome,” he said, but the team has a game at the Langley Events Centre in the Howard Tsumura Invitational tournament on Wednesday, and he needs a ride.