GIBSON CITY — Most basketball careers end on Senior Night, when banners, shirts and loud screams from friends wish a player well as he/she walks away from the "glory days."
Despite the sadness, there is closure.
For Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School junior Doug Woodward, it ends now, before it really began.
Driven at a young age, Woodward spent nearly every waking moment playing the sport he loved in youth leagues, camps and endless nights on playground courts.
Basketball was his escape and a bond to bridge the gap with a cousin eight years his senior. That cousin was GCMS Class of 2008 member Ethan Glascock, who died in a car accident in 2007.
A fifth-grader at the time, Woodward decided the rest of his career would be spent wearing Glascock's jersey number, 33.
“I wanted to really represent him,” Woodward said. “And I wanted to wear it for our family to show that 33 is still being able to play. So I walked up to the coach and asked for his number.”
After three years of qualifying for the state high jump in middle school, Woodward skipped track in high school to focus on basketball by playing in spring and summer leagues.
All the hard work was about to come to fruition until he had an accident of his own.
It occurred when Woodward was eight months away from being an upperclassmen on a varsity squad. In a game against PBL, an opponent's fist accidentally caught him in the left eye socket.
“It was straight eye socket,” Woodward said. “If it had hit me on the bone I probably would be OK.”
Woodward dropped to the ground, holding a slightly swollen eye with blurred vision that quickly subsided. He finished the game, and the season, but noticed a change in the ensuing weeks.
“It started to get darker and darker, and I started seeing stuff," he said.
A doctor's visit revealed Woodward had a detached retina, something he also had in fifth grade. Back then, surgery was enough to repair the problem and restore full vision.
In light of the previous injury, doctors took a closer look and determined through a series of tests that Woodward has Stickler Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting connective tissue.
Had he not been hit during the game, the syndrome might not have been discovered for years.
“We might not have known,” his mother, Angie, said.
While full eyesight returned quickly in fifth grade, Woodward has not been as lucky this time. The left eye has no peripheral vision and remains considerably blurry.
Surgeries have improved the vision and a full recovery is possible, though the chances of that are still unknown.
Woodward initially decided to give a return to basketball a try, with a plan to sit on the sidelines in support of the team this year and play again next season.
But after a heavy push from doctors to not risk permanent damage, Woodward made the heartbreaking choice to walk away while he still has a chance for full sight recovery.
“It’s extremely tough,” he said. “The very first game I tried supporting from the bench. I couldn't handle sitting over there because I get too much into the game. Knowing I can’t go in and help out when times are getting tough is really, really frustrating."
He said the toughest part is missing out on the brotherhood with his teammates.
“You don’t get it as much when you’re not on the team,” Woodward said. “We’re still all friends and stuff. But it’s different.
"The part that’s going to be tough is senior year, on Senior Night. That’ll be one of the harder nights knowing that I’m not going to be able to play and participate."
Woodward has taken over the role of Red Army mascot for the winter, has dabbled with the idea of a return to track and spent considerable time focusing on a sport he picked up freshman year — golf.
“It’s the only sport I have left,” he said. “I've really developed a passion for it.”
If Woodward returns to track, he could no longer do field events, but could compete in distance races and relays.
“I’m leaning toward it,” he said. “We’ll see.”
“He has kept his head up and taken advantage of other doors and opportunities that have presented themselves,” Falcons basketball coach Ryan Tompkins said.
“He is an active kid and this setback has not discouraged his spirit. This situation is making him a stronger person.”
Since the death of Ethan Glascock, Woodward is the only Falcon to have worn number 33. For now, there are no plans for anyone else to do so.
So as Woodward walks away from the sport he loves, he takes with him the jersey that represents a family bond and both a life, and career, that ended too soon.