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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 and that means they won't be present for the Class 1-A Lower State final with Carvers Bay on Saturday in Florence, which tips at 12:30 p.m.
Whale Branch coach Linc Lyles said Thursday the game time would not be moved later to accommodate the Warriors.
Should the Warriors win, the Middletons would also be out for the Class 1-A state championship March 2 in Columbia, also a 12:30 p.m. start.
"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 the win. "It is tough, but you've got to strive to win, as always."
Whale Branch has lost only once without the Middletons this season, a high-scoring affair against an out-of-state opponent at Hilton Head Island High School's holiday tournament.
Without Simeon and Michael, the Warriors defeated Timmonsville in the second round. In that game, freshman guard Justin Rhode broke out for 20 points and all-state senior Dee Delaney added 19.
Lyles has been preparing much of the season for the possibility of not having two of his top players this week. 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)."
Carvers Bay will provide the ultimate test. The Bears like to run, and the platoon system Lyles has favored in so many games will be limited.
The possibility was raised after Tuesday's Lower State semifinal that Saturday's Class 1-A boys game be moved to the evening.
S.C. High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said this week 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 Wednesday. "But I haven't gotten any requests or anything (to move the time). I would see it being hard to do."
If the time was moved later, Valerie said the family would travel to Florence early, find a church and be ready for the game Saturday evening.
Valerie was hopeful Thursday the game time would be changed, but knows the possibility is unlikely. She 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."
Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Class 1-A Lower State boys basketball championship
Who: Whale Branch vs. Carvers Bay
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Florence Civic Center
Admission: $10 for an all-day pass, available at the Civic Center box office. Re-entry requires the purchase of another ticket.