Valerie Middleton has heard from her sons’ teammates and other basketball fans about the religious convictions that keep Simeon and Michael Middleton from competing with the Whale Branch Early College High School boys basketball team in certain games.
Please let them play, they tell her. God will understand.
The Middletons are Seventh-day Adventists and recognize the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The brothers don’t play basketball during this time. They won’t be present for the Class 1A championship against Lewisville which tips at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
“This is a conviction,” Valerie said. “And a conviction you can’t turn on and off for your convenience. It’s something that we really believe in.”
The conviction has been tested before. When the brothers played junior varsity a year ago, the final game of the season fell on a Friday. Simeon and Michael played until the game went into overtime. But it was sunset.
They left. And the Warriors lost.
The boys understand and have comfort in helping the Warriors reach this point, Valerie said.
Simeon, a junior, averages 13.5 points per game and Michael, a sophomore, averages 10.1. Michael led the Warriors with 17 points and Simeon added 16 during a victory over C.E. Murray in the third round.
They played as if it was their final game this season.
“Hopefully, Saturday they’ll get the job done,” Simeon said after that win. “It is tough, but you’ve got to strive to win, as always.”
Whale Branch has won every game without the Middletons, including a 73-60 Class 1A Lower State final victory over Carvers Bay on Saturday.
In that game, all-state forward Dee Delaney finished with 22 points and 21 rebounds. Denzel Daniel dominated with his motor in the post, scrapping for 21 points and 19 rebounds. And freshman guard Justin Rhode showed off his shooting touch, finishing with 15 points.
Without Simeon and Michael, the Warriors defeated Timmonsville in the second round, when Rhode broke out for 20 points and Delaney added 19.
Whale Branch coach Linc Lyles has been preparing much of the season for the possibility of not having two of his top players at the end of the playoffs. He has talked about the Warriors’ depth, how the team is selfless and how teammates work for each other.
“The same as it’s been all year,” Lyles said. “We’ve got to prepare to (play without them).”
The possibility was raised after the Lower State semifinal that the Lower State Championship boys game be moved to the evening.
S.C. High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said then that the logistics of moving the Lower State final presented a problem. The time slots have been set for a long time, he said, and advertisers and sponsors opened wallets based on that schedule.
He said he did not know of any previous circumstances where religious considerations had been cause for a game to be moved, or of any requests made.
“All schools are fully aware that this is the time we will play, if they get to that point,” Singleton said. “But I haven’t gotten any requests or anything (to move the time). I would see it being hard to do.”
Had the game been moved, Valerie said the family would traveled to Florence early, found a church and been ready for the game Saturday evening.
Prior to the Lower State Championship, Valerie enlisted the prayer of fellow members and the pastors of Beaufort Seventh-Day Adventist church, where she and her husband have attended since before their sons were born.
“We believe in miracles,” she said. “But we also believe in the team. And we believe the team can do it.”