Updated Wed, Feb 12, 2014 10:27 am
There’s so much in life that people have no say in. People can’t choose their names or challenges, but one thing someone can choose is their best friend.
Meigs captains Damon Jones and AJ Kopec share a special bond that will carry on well after the final basketball buzzer rings.
Kopec dreamed of someday competing in sports, but was unable to do so at a young age due to crouzon syndrome. The junior guard has watched basketball since the young age of eight and has had a burning passion to step foot on the court ever since.
He wasn’t able to play sports until the sixth grade due to his health, but once his doctors cleared him, basketball was the answer to his prayers. Kopec worked diligently on and off the court, recovering from surgeries and fine-tuning his basketball skills. His hard work paid off last fall when Kopec joined his buddy Jones and earned a spot on head coach Dave Kight’s varsity squad.
Most young basketball players look up to NBA stars for motivation to improve their game and inspiration for life but not Jones. The senior captain receives all of his inspiration from his friend and fellow captain.
“He comes out and he practices with us everyday,” Jones said. “He busts his butt and does what he can. He knows he can’t play but he still comes out here and gives it everything he has. He’s an inspiration to the team.”
Jones and Kopec have played sports together for the past three years at Meigs High School, but due to the physicality and dangers of football, Kopec serves as the team manager in the fall. “He is really like a manager but we don’t look at it like that; we look at him as one of us,” said Jones.
Jones played football for Meigs and has bonded with Kopec since his sophomore season on the Marauders’ sideline.
“He’s a close friend,” Jones said. “You can’t beat him. You can’t get any better than AJ. We hang out and we do whatever we feel like doing.”
Friendship between these young leaders is illustrated during pre-game warm-ups. The Marauder leaders walk side by side onto the court, exchanging encouraging words and jokes to loosen any pre-game jitters that they may have built up. Their unique connection is showcased through their repetitive high-fives.
“Those boys all love him and he loves those boys,” said AJ’s mother, Dawn Majercsk Kopec. “He gives them high-fives and hits no matter how they’re doing.”
Jones seeks out his best friend as his name is called for the starting lineup in order to receive one last ounce of motivation from Kopec before hitting the court. Both players smile at each other and know that no matter what, they have each other’s back.
“Me and Damon are really good buddies,” Kopec said. “I always help him up. He’s always there and we always help each other out. We work as a team."
Kight instills a foxhole mentality to his young Marauders squad of, “Everybody’s in, and if you’re not in, you’re out.”
“He does everything with us,” Jones said. “He hangs out with us, he even talks about girls with us, it’s what we do.”
Kopec inspires his fellow captain everyday to keep going and push through the tough things in life.
“His message he always gives to me is, ‘Work hard for me,’” Jones said. “He’s always going to be there for you and he’ll always have your back.”
If Jones endures a rough day at school, or the pressure of games starts to stress him out, a simple high-five and encouraging words from his buddy automatically puts a smile on the senior leader’s face.
“He tells us ‘Look guys I know I can’t play but you guys can,”’ Jones said. “So I want you guys to stay positive and work hard.”
Kight recognizes Kopec’s positive attitude and resilience to push through any obstacle that is put in front of him and allowed Kopec to play in a few games this season.
“AJ is a confidence builder for us,” Kight said. “I think he gets that from everything he’s had to go through.”
Kight calmly walks Kopec to the scoring table as the two talk about the game plan and possible risks of playing in the game. Eager to get his hands on the ball, Kopec sprints on the court as the eyes of every member of the crowd focus on No. 3. Kopec knocked down 3-point shots against Eastern, Athens and River Valley this season.
Kight acknowledges the special relationship that his young men have with Kopec and stresses their unselfishness to score.
“Damon makes AJ feel like a part of the team,” Kight said. “The student body loves AJ and the team loves AJ. AJ scoring is going to mean more to them than them scoring.”
“When he scores a bucket, it feels better than a win,” Jones said. “If AJ scores, it’s a win in my book.”