Top of the Morning, Feb. 14, 2018 (w/ video)

Top of the Morning, Feb. 14, 2018 (w/ video)

ANITA PILARSKI expected to walk out on the court with her 17-year-old son, JOEL, at Friday's Senior Night at Rantoul Township High.

Joel the loyal manager, not Joel the starting guard.

"He usually wears nice pants, a dress shirt and a tie," Anita said. "But before the game, he comes out in a uniform. I'm like 'What are you doing?' That's when he told me he was playing."

A four-year manager for several Rantoul teams, Joel took up boys' basketball coach BRETT FRERICH's offer to suit up against Prairie Central. Announced as a starter — along with four senior regulars — No. 45 didn't play until the final 90 seconds.

As the clock ticked down — and with cooperation from both teams — Joel banked in a 15-footer as the crowd went nuts. After the buzzer, students charged the court to celebrate with him.

"It's the loudest I've ever heard it," Frerichs said. "The student body loves Joel. And Joel has unconditional love for Rantoul sports."

Mom has pictures, a video and a News-Gazette box score from the magical night, which created a social-media buzz.

"I cried every time I saw a post," Anita said. "I cried all weekend."

Joel? He, too, was emotional at the game. But by the time Sunday morning rolled around — he runs the soundboard at American Lutheran in Rantoul — the future Parkland College student was locked in on his usual duties. At Tuesday's basketball game, he was back to being a manager.

"Sportmanship is alive," Anita said. "He loves sports so much ... when he made that shot, we were all excited beyond belief."