When Bellarmine-Jefferson High’s Clarence Viray separated his left
shoulder Jan. 29, it looked as if the senior had played his last high
However, Guards’ Coach Eli Essa wasn’t about to let his top player
hang up his sneakers without a proper send-off. The coach just needed
the right opportunity to carry out his plan.
Wednesday, in a 53-47 Santa Fe League victory against host
Panorama City St. Genevieve, Essa decided the time was right to give
Viray a big surprise.
“I told Clarence to make sure he put on his uniform before the
game,” Essa said. “He probably thought that I just wanted him to fell
like a part of the team. He was kind of surprised that I wanted him
to suit up.”
With 17 seconds remaining in the game -- and the Guards with a
comfortable nine-point lead -- Bell-Jeff’s Vahe Issai was fouled hard
and he fell to the floor, injuring his back. With Issai unable to
shoot two free throws, many of the Guard players jumped up and
volunteered to take the shots.
However, Essa walked over to Viray and asked the senior if we
would like to take the shots.
With his shoulder cradled in a sling -- in front of a stunned
crowd -- Viray made his way to the charity stripe for his two shots.
“When I went out there for the free throws, I couldn’t even see
that well,” Viray said. “I was so excited when coach told me I was
shooting that one of my contacts fell out when I was taking off my
uniform. But I didn’t care. I went out there any way.
“I was just saying to myself ‘You have to at least make one shot.’
I wanted to make a shot so bad.”
Hunched over, Viray took the ball in his uninjured right hand and
let a shot go. It missed. However, on this second attempt, the ball
found its mark.
As the ball worked its way through the net, the Bell-Jeff bench
erupted in shouts and applause, a fitting tribute to a player who
averaged 16 points, four assists and 2.5 steals a game prior to being
“It was the most incredible feeling,” Viray said. “I will remember
it all of my life.”
Although his one point might be just a blip in the Bell-Jeff box
score, the gracious gesture by his coach meant a great deal to Viray.
“Thanks very much, coach,” a misty-eyed Viray said to Essa at the
end of the game. “You made my season.”
Essa said Viray deserved the recognition, as his player was
devastated after he injured himself playing dodgeball in a school
physical education class.
“This is a fitting way for him to end his high-school career,”
Essa said. “I just wanted to do a little something for him because he
has done so much for the team.”
Said Viray: “The coach letting me go out there just shows how much
class he has,” he said. “I am so grateful to him for letting me do
Lost in the Viray drama was a good victory by the Guards (10-11,
2-5 in league). Bell-Jeff earned the win without its second leading
scorer -- Brian Alfaro -- who severely sprained his ankle two weeks
ago. Alfaro was averaging 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
Picking up the slack against the Valiants (8-13, 1-6) was junior
Brendon Doyle. Doyle was a force in the middle, collecting 22 points,
15 rebounds and five assists.
A nice surprise for the Guards was the play of Issai and B.J.
Aranda, who are filling in for Viray and Alfaro. The new starters
contributed 12 points each.
“This may not be the most talented team I’ve had at Bell-Jeff, but
it is the hardest working,” Essa said. “These guys give it their all
every game and they never give up.”
Bell-Jeff 9 14 12
18 -- 53
St. Genevieve 9 4 15
19 -- 47
Doyle 22 points and 15 rebounds, Issai 12, Aranda 12,
Kerjekian 6, Viray 1.
* Three-pointers: none.
Cisneros 16, Arroyo 12, Pasquel 9, Ajale 4, Mendoza 3,
Berrag 2, Ramos 1.
* Three-pointers: Arroyo 2, Mendoza.