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Unbreakable spirit

Quinteris Long prepares to play a recreation league basketball game at Emmett Scott Center on Wednesday night. Long, a student at South Pointe High School, recovered from a broken neck he suffered three years ago after playing on a trampoline. After surgery and intensive rehab, Long returned to the court and played for South Pointe's varsity team this past year.
Quinteris Long prepares to play a recreation league basketball game at Emmett Scott Center on Wednesday night. Long, a student at South Pointe High School, recovered from a broken neck he suffered three years ago after playing on a trampoline. After surgery and intensive rehab, Long returned to the court and played for South Pointe's varsity team this past year.

Surely, the tall, lean, rangy kid walking and dribbling a basketball down the residential street south of Rock Hill Wednesday evening can't be the kid with the broken neck.

But Quinteris Long's mother had told me that her youngest of two sons, just turned 17, sleeps with a basketball. She said that he plays every day after homework is done, on weekends, and nights at the Emmett Scott recreation center when South Pointe High School's basketball season is finished.

The young man on this street stopped and spun the ball. His smile was broad and full. His head looked fine. Nope, the guy I am looking for has a titanium plate in his neck where bone used to be. Family said doctors told them he had a 50-50 chance of walking again. I saw no wheelchair. No walker. This teen moved with spry steps.

"You Quinteris?" I call out.

"Yes, sir," he said.

Of course, the kid with the basketball was him.

The same kid who three years ago today was on a trampoline with other kids in a Rock Hill yard, did a double flip and broke the fifth vertebrae in his neck.

"Shattered it," said his mother, Pamela Long.

That day is a day never to be forgotten by anybody named Long. Quinteris didn't get knocked unconscious but was able to tell the other kids to get his father, who was inside washing dishes on that Sunday morning. Quinton, the father, came out, and his son said, "Call 911."

"He was famous for jokes, but this wasn't a joke," Quinton Long said.

Quinteris could talk, but he couldn't move. All he could do was talk and pray.

At the Charlotte hospital, the Longs opted for immediate surgery, even though there was no guarantee of success. The only guarantee came from Quinteris himself.

"Either that first day, or maybe it was the second, I told the doctors I was walking out of that hospital," he said.

Walk out is what he did, later, after rehab and using a walker for a while and a wheelchair he hated.

"No way was I ending up in a wheelchair," he said.

He took his first steps after just five days. Many called it a miracle.

But just walking isn't what Quinteris Long wanted. He wanted to play basketball like he had as a young kid and middle schooler. He kept his grades high after receiving home instruction during the days after his injury. There were early days he couldn't get the ball up to the basket. His arms were skinny and weak. He strengthened his body. He practiced. His parents helped. His older brother, Lequintis, helped.

By April of his freshman year, doctors cleared him to play again. He played that season, and the next, and was on the varsity for South Pointe this past season. No. 3. He told only the people who needed to know he had a broken neck with a titanium plate in it. His high scoring game was 11 points.

His mother was more worried during games. His father, when fans would ask which of the players was his, would say, "No. 3. The one who broke his neck."

Then, Quinton Long would give the short version of his son's recovery.

"People would say, 'He is blessed by God,' every time," Quinton Long said.

Blessed by a spirit that won't quit, too.

Wednesday nights these days, in the offseason from school play, Quinteris plays in a teen league at the Emmett Scott Center. The other players give him no slack. He has to be tough. Nobody cares if he has a titanium plate for a broken neck.

He is nicknamed "Cluck." He's been called that since he was a baby. If you can't take the competition on the court, or in life, or a little razzing for your nickname, you don't belong, Quinteris said.

He belongs.

All that matters is a teenager who three years ago today couldn't move -- not at all, none, and didn't know that he would ever move again -- glides gracefully through his days.

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