RANTOUL — As a memorable season comes to an end, some grade school basketball players have to say goodbye to their coach. A 19 year-old lead the Saint Malachy’s seventh grade boys team to a championship, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to make the big game. This week he’s leaving for active duty.
Caleb Gossett graduated from Rantoul High School in may then enlisted in the army. He’s been training at a reserve base in Urbana. This week he’s heading to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Yesterday’s game could’ve been his last with the team, and it was certainly an emotional one.
“There’s always room for improvement,” says Nathan Kelly.
These boys say they truly believe that after a season with 10 wins and 0 losses. They made the shots, but Coach Caleb Gossett called them.
He says, “I was just working at my reserve unit in Urbana and I got a call that said, ‘Hey, we need a coach.'”
The 19 year-old says he was shocked, flattered, and excited. Since taking the job he says he’s tried to translate the values he practices in training to the basketball court.
“I’ve tried to instill a little bit of discipline, respect, integrity really… At this age it’s not really about basketball and winning. It’s about becoming better young men.”
In the back of their heads they knew he might not be there to finish the season. Less than two months after the call to join the team, he got another call from the U.S. ARMY.
St. Malachy athletic director and team parent Rachel Warner says, “We were kind of hoping he would get it extended to January we found out the week before Thanksgiving that wasn’t going to be the case.”
Gossett says, “It was excitement, but it was also disappointment. I was a little upset because obviously we’ve grown close as a team, and we’ve all really bonded.”
Player Dawson Magrini says, “It was very sad. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t know when. So it was heartbreaking.”
In what might be their last game with Coach Gossett the boys played for a championship, and for the man who brought them together. While they might be losing their head coach, the team says no one can take away the season they had together.
“Coach has always been there with us because and we will never forget him because he’ll always be in our hearts and minds, and we’ll always look back at them,” says player Isaiah Gianessi.
Gossett says, “If there’s a possibility I can come back then absolutely I’ll try to come back, but they’ll be alright.”
Gossett says he’s going to Saint Louis this week for processing before he goes to El Paso. The young coach says if the team makes a run for sectionals he might try to take a leave to come back and cheer them on.
It’s not all bad news for the team this week. This weekend they competed in the Illini Conference tournament. A parent says on Saturday the team was down ten and came back to win. That puts them in the championship game tomorrow at Holy Cross in Champaign.