By Billy Liggett

It’s a shot he’s hit a thousand times in practice over the last few years, but for the first time on Monday, this one counted.

An otherwise meaningless jump shot late in the fourth quarter of Lee County High School’s 70-43 blowout win over Douglas Byrd on Monday night meant the world to junior Frank Wishart. It jolted a by-then complacent Yellow Jacket crowd and bench to its feet, and three days later, people are still congratulating Wishart on his bucket.

“It was a special moment for not only Frank, but his family and anybody who’s followed this team this year,” said Frank’s mother, Lisa Wishart. “Those two points meant more to him than 100 points would to anyone else.”

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Frank Wishart is autistic. He was diagnosed by a doctor at the age of 2 after he lost the ability to speak (“It was like a light bulb went out,” his mother said).

His parents decided early on they would treat Frank, now 17, the same as his younger brother, Robert, which meant encouraging him to try out for sports and other activities with children his age.

Early on, a few years before he began to speak, Frank fell in love with basketball. The hard work, the sense of being part of a team, the respect he earned from his coach and teammates … they were all reasons Frank often told his parents that sports is his life.

His role model is longtime Lee County head basketball coach Reggie Peace, who hosted one of many youth basketball camps the year an 8-year-old Frank arrived with his mother, who Peace said was hesitant to let her son participate.

“My wife asked her to trust us,” Peace recalled, “and assured her I could handle him. He worked hard from Day 1 and when he aged out of the camp, we invited him back to be a counselor.”

He promoted Frank to varsity last fall, and he’s played the 6-foot-3, 17-year-old on numerous occasions throughout the year, usually during “mop-up” duty when the game has been decided. Monday night, the Yellow Jackets, who are 15-3 and fighting for one of the playoff spots in the competitive Cape Fear Valley Conference, led Douglas Byrd by 30 when Frank took the court and attempted his first shot, a 14-footer from the left side that hit the rim and bounced back before it was snagged by a defender.

His second shot came moments after a nice pass from junior Alston Scott. This time, Frank hit nothing but net on the high-arcing 12-footer, causing a roar from the student section attending the game that night and chants of “Frank! Frank!” soon after.  Feeling confident after his make, he attempted a 3-pointer on the Jackets’ next possession and missed.

Peace brought him back to the bench soon after, and Frank left the court to another standing ovation from the crowd and his teammates.

“His friends have really been there for him, and they have treated him like everyone else,” said Lisa Wishart. “He loves it. That’s what we want for him, and that’s all he wants — to be treated like anyone else.

Peace called the shot a “really special moment” and was particularly pleased with the way Frank’s teammates rallied around him after that moment.

“His teammates, the students, the faculty and the administrators … they all love Frank,” he said. “One of the resource officers told me that when it went in, he nearly shook the rails down [in the bleachers]. When it went in, it was just awesome for everyone at this school.”

Frank said he hopes to get more chances to up his scoring average. He said he knows his strength is defense — Pearce says he could teach a few things about posting up to some of his starters — but Frank’s real value comes in his leadership skills.

“Every day, I tell the guys, ‘Of course we’re going to win,’” Frank said. “I cheer them on. I yell at them. I tell them what needs to be done to win. Simple stuff. I just do my job. That’s all.”

Lisa Wishart said she and her husband, Frank, will never forget the shot, for it justified their refusal early in Frank’s life to accept the “worst-case scenarios” of his diagnosis.

“We were told he’d never go to a regular school, he’d never learn to read, he’d never learn to drive and he wouldn’t play any sports,” she said. “Basically, we were told he wouldn’t live a normal life. But I’m sorry, we just didn’t accept that. Sports has been so important to him — it’s opened doors and created friendships. We’re just so proud of him.”

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