WITHOUT two starters yesterday, La Salle High stunned Germantown Academy at the Team Taggart Classic, a special basketball event at Cabrini College with far greater meaning than a non-league matchup between two top area schools.
Missing seniors Najee Walls and David Krmpotich, the Explorers led nearly the entire game, trailing only after the Patriots nabbed the game's first basket.
By rule, Walls and Krmpotich had to sit one game after each was disqualified during an in-game kerfuffle against Coatesville last week.
Without them, Ryan McTamney and Shawn Witherspoon led La Salle to a 58-44 triumph with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
However, just as they had done during last season's improbably PIAA Class AAAA runner-up finish, the Explorers used ball movement, stingy defense and discipline for victory. The Patriots' cause was hindered further by a an 11-for-25 night at the foul line (they were 1-for-13 at 1:25 in the second quarter).
"With two starters out, I just tried to get the confidence of my other teammates up," Witherspoon said. "I wanted to know that even when those guys come back that I still have confidence that I'm going to pass them the ball and they're going to knock down the shot."
A win is great, but even the Explorers (2-0), realized the night - and its proceeds - were more significant.
Slowed somewhat by daily chemotherapy pills, Bobby Taggart, the Germantown Academy junior for whom the event was named, walked to center court and tossed the ceremonial jump ball.
"It just teaches you to be grateful for life and everything you have," Witherspoon said. "It's a shame he has to go through that at such a young age . . . "
Immediately after the faux tip, Taggart was greeted with encouraging sentiments and handshakes from both teams and GA coach Jim Fenerty and La Salle skipper Joe Dempsey.
"It means so much to have this kind of support," Taggart said. "It's unbelievable. I cannot imagine being in the state I am now without the support of my school."
Last year, the school organized a walk-a-thon to help the Taggart family with costs not covered by insurance. All funds collected from last night's game will go to the "Team Taggart Fund."
Fenerty said he reached out to Dempsey, who didn't hesitate when asked if La Salle was willing to take on the game. Afterward, Taggart's father John walked to the La Salle sideline and expressed gratitude.
In eighth grade, Taggart said he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common type of cancer that develops in bone, according to the American Cancer Society.
After experiencing excruciating knee pain while he played middle-school ball for the Patriots, Taggart eventually had an MRI that confirmed cancer.
"It was pretty crazy considering I hadn't known people my age who had gone through the same thing," he said.
However, support from the school and treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia helped in those early days.
Ssince then, Taggart has had cancer removed from a lung as a sophomore, and had his right knee replaced. Currently, Taggart said he has tumors in a left rib, vertebrae and left ankle.
"It was hard because sports were my release, like every athlete," he said. "It was a good way to let go of stress. And now I have this big weight on my shoulders and no way to express myself, get over it and put it behind me. That's the hardest part."
He makes it to school when he can, and he holds a job at Wawa. Last week, he was at school every day, but he has yet to attend this week. And time with friends and family helps, but the coping process is ongoing.
"I'm still trying to figure that out even after a few years," he said. "Sure, some things help but there's nothing else that gives you that same satisfaction."
Last year as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Taggart went to Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres baseball games.
When asked if there was a way people could offer help if they desired, Taggart shrugged his shoulders.
"We really appreciate events like this but we're not really looking for any money," he said. "I would just recommend people donate to Make-A-Wish."
By Aaron Carter