Ryan Bourque lives on in the hearts of Central Catholic's players
Saturday, March, 15
By Alan Siegel
This is my shot at glory, the skinny, blond-haired kid said to himself. Might as well make the most of it.
Central Catholic led Boston Latin by 18 points. Less than a minute remained. The game was nearly over.
But as the clock wound down, Ryan Bourque sped up. With two seconds left, he sank his only basket of the night.
"That's bush league," Boston Latin coach Brendan Smith said. "You're running up the score."
"This means the world to him," Raiders coach Rick Nault said. "Don't take it the wrong way."
The ultimately innocuous moment which occurred at the end of a state tournament game last March confirmed what Nault already knew about Ryan.
"He really wasn't that great a basketball player," he said, "but he played with so much heart."
When Ryan, 17, died in a car crash Nov. 25, the Raiders lost a part of their soul. Through the pain, the players made a promise.
"It was always understood that we were going to play for him," senior Rory Blinn said. "We never wanted to let him down."
Today, the team will battle St. John's Shrewsbury for the Division 1 state championship at the DCU Center in Worcester.
For the coach, it is the answer to a question he asked the team the morning after Ryan's accident as he addressed them in the locker room. He first made a plea to the weary group of teenagers.
"I never want to have to do this again," said Nault.
But, he added, "How are we going to remember him?"
Ryan Bourque was the only kid in America who people came to watch sit at the end of the bench.
The self-deprecating proclamation made in his college essay summed him up in a sentence.
"To be on the team at Central playing ball," his uncle Joseph Bourque said, "that was his life."
Ryan relished his role, but was never above poking fun at himself or his buddies. Senior Justin Narbonne, who, like Ryan, rarely saw the court last season, remembers taking some playful heat from his friend.
"Yo J," Ryan told Narbonne, "I think I'm going to outscore you tonight | if we get to play."
That was Ryan; at times a bit too excited. Late in the fourth quarter of one game, senior KB Oshodi remembers, Ryan was itching to get in.
At the next stoppage of play, Nault obliged him. As Ryan checked in, he rushed to pull off his warm-up shirt.
"He was so excited, he took off his game jersey too," Oshodi said. "He was at the scorer's table, laughing, in just a (tank top)."
Growing up in Lawrence, Ryan earned the nickname "The Ambassador," his uncle said. He played hoops at the Lawrence Boys Club, went to ABA Camp at Merrimack College and made friends with kids of all kinds.
At the mall, his buddies "used to count how many people Ryan knew," Joseph Bourque said. "Ryan would say, 'Point out someone, I bet you I know his name.'"
Even if he didn't know the names of all the teenagers there, they probably knew his.
How do you do it?
"How do you tell a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid that someone who's like a brother to them is gone and never coming back?" Nault asked himself in the aftermath of Ryan's death.
The conversations cut like a dull knife.
"I didn't believe it to tell you the truth," Blinn said. "(Coach) explained to me what happened, I just sat up in bed. ... It was a good month before I realized what had happened."
Narbonne and Ryan's friendship dated back to their days at St. Patrick Elementary School in Lawrence. Their relationship was seemingly indestructible.
Last spring, after leaving a party on a rainy night, Narbonne's car skidded and hit a tree. He escaped serious injury, but the accident changed him, made him realize how fortunate he was.
"I was the lucky one," Narbonne said. "I try to tell that to everyone. I'm very lucky."
Narbonne and his teammates wondered why yet another teenager, one with so many great qualities, died too young. It made no sense.
"'Why?' was one of the first things I said to myself," Nault said. "He was such a good kid, he loved life, he loved being a part of the team. Why Ryan? There are so many kids out there who make poor choices. Ryan seemed like a perfect kid in a lot of ways. Why does it have to be such a good kid. That's a natural feeling, a natural question to ask."
In the end, "Why?" is a useless question. Their friend is gone.
"We all grew up after it happened," Blinn said. "It was a shot of reality."
So how will we remember him?
For starters, the Raiders wear a small, circular patch on their home and away jerseys with "RB," his initials. After Central Catholic's win over B.C. High in the Eastern Massachusetts final Monday, several players pointed to the patch as if to say, "This was for Ryan."
Firetruck red T-Shirts, with a black silhouette modeled after Ryan printed on the front, and the phrase "The real 6th man" printed in white on the back, are popping up around the school.
On Feb. 20, Senior Night, Central Catholic officially retired "45," his uniform number.
The ceremony, held before the Raiders' game against St. John's Prep, brought together dozens of Ryan's family members.
"I think Ryan had circled that one on his calendar," Joseph Bourque said.
Joseph, the oldest of 10 Bourque children, attended St. John's. He remembers shaking Nault's hand that evening and having a good laugh.
"Don't forget," he told Nault, "three or four of us went to the Prep. As far as we're concerned, go out and win it for Ryan tonight."
The Raiders won easily, prompting a student to approach Joseph afterward.
"Hey, Uncle Joe," he said. "Ryan probably would've gotten some minutes tonight."
People loved Ryan. There's no other way to say it. How else can you explain the entire Lawrence High basketball team attending his wake? Or the Lawrence High volleyball team (Ryan also played volleyball) sending over a game ball and flowers?
As the winter has progressed, as the Raiders' wins piled up, their confidence grew.
"The court was kind of our sanctuary," Blinn said. "We've tried to play in (Ryan's) memory. It was just tough to forget about that."
"It feels like he's been helping us through the whole season," Narbonne said. "He just loved basketball. He would do anything to be on this team."
Today, when Central Catholic faces St. John's Shrewsbury at the DCU Center, Narbonne will be thinking of his friend.
"We want to win this game for Ryan," he said, "I knew if he was here, he'd be right there on the bench cheering."
Then, with a few minutes left, Nault would point to an eager and waiting Ryan. Into the game he'd go like a speeding bullet, excited for his shot at glory.