West Palm Beach, Fla.
THE SUREST sign that the season is going well for the Summit Christian
basketball team of West Palm Beach, Fla., isn't that the Saints are 23--2 and
ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 2A. It's that on some days after practice,
assistant coach Vincent Merriweather gives sophomore center Altavious Carter a
ride home, just like old times.
ago, it appeared that the two had taken their last ride together. On Dec. 15,
2005, Merriweather was driving Carter home after practice when a school bus
slammed into the back of Merriweather's van, which was stopped at a red light.
Though they were wearing seat belts, their seats were dislodged and they were
thrown to the floor and briefly knocked unconscious. (Six bus passengers had
minor injuries.) Carter came to first, and when he looked at Merriweather lying
next to him, he thought his coach was dead.
In the months
that followed there would be times when Merriweather, 42, who works as a
firefighter, wished he had died. He was initially paralyzed from the neck down,
and in the days after the accident he lay in his hospital bed despairing.
"The more I thought about it, the more I just wanted to kill myself,"
Merriweather says. The 6'5" Carter, meanwhile, had surgery for a broken
neck. A month later he began rehab to strengthen his upper body, and six months
later he played his first game, in a summer league. "The main thing I was
worried about was Coach getting better," says Carter, who lives with his
mother, Tonya McRae, a medical assistant.
get better. With his neck fractured and spinal cord bruised, it took him a
month to first move his right toe. "It's like my arms and legs were frozen
and they started to thaw out," he says. Although he walks with a limp and
has only 35% use of his left hand, Merriweather, unmarried, is self-sufficient,
cooking simple meals, and he has no problem being behind the wheel again.
averages 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, and the duo will look to
help Summit Christian win its first district and state titles. "Just by
being here," says head coach Murray Smith, "they teach our kids about
fighting back and never giving up."