MATAWAN – Senior Nights are a special time for high school athletes. It is the opportunity for them to be recognized and appreciated in what is usually their last home game of their high school careers. As each athlete has their name announced and hears the cheering fans, it makes all their hard work and sacrifice worthwhile. However, the night is even more special for some athletes who have had extraordinary challenges to overcome to reach this point. Matawan basketball player Darrell Rogers is one of these athletes.
Rogers was the starting point guard on the Matawan varsity basketball team in his sophomore year. He was a strong contributor to the team and was the team’s third leading scorer with 230 points. “He was a long, athletic point guard that could do everything,” said Matawan coach John Giraldo. “He had a good basketball IQ and the potential to go to the next level.”
A few months after the season ended, tragedy struck. Rogers had a heart attack while practicing with his AAU team. After CPR was administered by his coaches and a bystander, he was flown to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.
Giraldo heard the news from a parent, then immediately reached out to the coach to verify the story. “I was shocked,” said Geraldo of hearing the news. “You never really think that something like that would happen to one of your own players.”
During Rogers’ three-month hospital stay, he was given an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which acts as both a pacemaker and a defibrillator. His recovery was slow and his life was changed. With an ICD, he was no longer able to play contact sports. He rehabbed throughout the summer and fall and was able to return to the team in December of that year, 2018. “It was a big accomplishment for him to walk into our practice,” said Giraldo.
When Rogers found out his basketball career was over, he put his feelings in perspective. “I was very emotional and mad at first, but I was happy for everyone who was playing,” he said.
Rogers was not forgotten by his coaches or teammates. Giraldo said, “I kept in touch with his parents. I let them know that we wanted Darrell to be as much a part of the team as possible.”
Emotions were high when Rogers finally returned. “It was a very emotional time for his teammates,” said Giraldo. “When he started to come around and be at practices there was a lot of relief and joy from everyone involved, especially his friends who he played with since elementary school.”
Giraldo explained, “We wanted to make him as comfortable as possible and to have him around as much as possible. We wanted to include him in all team activities but did not know if he would be affected by the noise of the gym or bus rides to away games. We wanted to keep it as normal as possible. We kept his locker and uniform for him.”
“He kept in touch with my family and me” said Rogers of Giraldo. “I went to practices and he got me more involved. He also encouraged my leadership abilities.”
Upon his return to the team, Rogers was not medically cleared to play, so he became a non-playing member of the team. “He was at all practices and sat on the bench during home games,” said Giraldo. “He technically could not be on the court during warm-ups but he had eyes on everyone else and he was still part of the team.”
Rogers didn’t feel nervous returning to the team. “It was unreal to me. It was always what I wanted from day one,” he said. “They (my teammates) always involved me in what they were doing and didn’t make me feel different.”
Giraldo noticed that Rogers still felt the emotions of the game. “It is hard to tell but I know he feels the losses as much as anyone. He feels the intensity of the situations and the highs and lows as much as everyone else on the team. He is involved in the whole process.”
Around school Rogers is very popular. “Everyone loves him. He was always a well-liked kid before the accident,” said Giraldo. “Now everyone wants to make sure he is OK. He’s like everyone’s little brother now. Everyone wants to protect him.”
Rogers feels confident about his classes and appreciates all the help his teachers are giving him. “I’m doing well. My teachers don’t push me to the point where I can’t do it, but they don’t go easy on me either,” said Rogers. He is on track to graduate on time this June with the rest of his class.
“Academics were never really an issue. He was always a very good student. Now he has modified classes. He has a lot of memory loss but he is a hard worker. He does what he needs to do and is willing to put extra time in. He comes from a great family,” said Giraldo.
Senior Night was very special this year for the Matawan basketball community, as Rogers was able to suit up for the first time since the heart attack and be recognized as a member of the team.
“We wanted to make sure he was acknowledged like all the other seniors and players. It was the first time he got to get into uniform with the team and be announced as a starter. He went through all the motions of being a starter on the team. His name was announced and he did the traditional hand shake with the coaches. Afterward he was in uniform on the bench (during the game),” said Giraldo. “He was very excited. I think it was more emotional than he anticipated.”
“It was crazy,” exclaimed Rogers. “I wanted it but didn’t think it was going to be like that when everyone was cheering for me as I ran past them when my name was announced.”
Keeping a positive attitude is important for Rogers. “I look at how it could have been and how I am right now,” said Rogers. “I realize I’m the best I can be right now, but I am still progressing.”
“His progress might not seem like a lot but the incident was only two years ago. It is really amazing at how far he has come in such little time,” said Giraldo.
In addition to everything that has happened, Giraldo feels that Rogers is also a role model for the community. “Everyone in the community knows his story and they found inspiration in Darrell, not just his friends but people in the community,” he explained.
Rogers is a bit more modest. When asked if he felt like he was a role model he responded, “No, I feel like I’m Darrell.”
He is positive about his recovery. “I feel like I’m impatient a little but everything is going good.” He feels his family has played a big role in his recovery. “They push me to be the best I can be. They don’t go easy on me or anything.”
Although he has limitations, he continues to work out. “I’m doing sit-ups, squats and lifting weights,” said Rogers. “I get tired easily and have to take breaks. I also stop lifting weights when I feel pain in my chest.”
“He was disappointed that he couldn’t play on the school team anymore. His priorities are health wise and he wants to keep progressing,” said Giraldo. “His goals have changed and now are to be able to play basketball again (outside of scholastic competition). He wants to go to college and possibly study physical therapy. He wants to have a good, happy, successful life.”
Rogers has thought about his post high school plans. “I will probably go to Brookdale College for two years to study physical therapy and then transfer to a four-year college to finish my physical therapy degree,” he explained.
With all his support and a great attitude, Rogers is on his way to that happy, successful life.