RUMSON – Of all the activities for a fifth-grader living with dwarfism to be drawn to, basketball might not be the most logical match.

Watching his hometown high school basketball team, however, opened up Jack Velcamp’s mind to the possibilities.

On Thursday night, the possibilities became a reality for the 4-foot-2 Rumson-Fair Haven senior who spent eight years as the varsity basketball manager in pursuit of his dream with the help of a community that made sure he got a chance to live it.

For the first time during his eight-year association with the program, Velcamp got to fulfill his childhood dream of suiting up as a member of the varsity squad at Rumson-Fair Haven and hearing his name announced as a starter in front of a capacity ground – a majority of which was there to salute him.

Rumson senior Jack Velcamp during pregame introductions. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

If the pregame speech from coach Chris Champeau praising Velcamp and the pregame introduction were not overwhelming enough, Velcamp got to take the floor with the starting lineups and take a crack at scoring a varsity basket.

Velcamp’s first few shots missed the mark, but perseverance was never a problem for him. He kept firing and at the midway point of the quarter, he drove into the lane and banked home one of the more awe-inspiring first-quarter layups since Dr. James Naismith thought to throw a ball up into a peach basket.

“Throughout these eight years, I’ve been through so many teams, so many athletes and I’ve learned so much,” Velcamp said. “I applied everything I learned in the game tonight.”

After the ball dropped through the basket, the Rumson players cleared the bench to mob Velcamp in celebration and the group lifted him over their heads as the “Dawgpound” student section let out a roar.

“This group in general, I know we’re all seniors, but we have such a tight bond and that’s what makes this special,” Velcamp said. “I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else except them. They held me up. They’ve loved me. It’s insane.

“I love coach (Champeau) because he gave me an opportunity to play tonight. My family has been through a lot helping me, my brother (P.J.), especially. He has been helping me train ever since I found out I would start this game. It’s insane, but it’s really special.”

Rumson senior Jack Velcamp. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

Following the game, Velcamp was humbled by the outpouring of support and even self-deprecating over how many shots it took him to score his first varsity basket. It’s not like it’s his first time playing, after all: away from his high school team, Velcamp was a member of Team U.S.A at the 2017 World Dwarf Games in Canada.

He even earned his nickname, the Hammer, thanks to his prowess on the court.

“Originally, he wore a velvet outfit and I called him ‘Jackie Velvet,’” said Champeau, who prides himself on coming up with nicknames for each of his many players. “That just never caught on. Then one time I saw him trying to literally hammer a shot down – he was trying to block a shot when I went to watch him play in one of his rec games. I said, ‘Whoa…that’s the Hammer right there.’

“I said to him, ‘Dude, do you like the nickname ‘The Hammer?’ He goes (nodding subtly), ‘Yeah.’ So that was it. He became the Hammer.”

If there is one thing Jack Velcamp could always relate to, it is a good underdog story, so it is no wonder he was drawn to the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team at a young age.

Among the first teams Velcamp caught a glimpse of was the 2010-11 team that made a Cinderella run to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals led by 5-foot-5 point guard Kevin Alter.

Alter personified that Rumson team and so many that have played together since – tough, gritty, defiant and bigger of mind and heart than in stature. Rumson has been at its best over the past eight years in that underdog role.

“It’s been a fun ride, but it’s been a fast one too,” Velcamp said. “I still remember me and my brother standing next to the doors, cheering on everybody. We were close (to the team) in a way that everybody loved us, but now we understand the game, we understand each other as teammates. It’s very special.”

Rumson senior Jack Velcamp with his team. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

Moreover, Champeau has been adamant about maintaining a sense of community within his program, making sure every member of the team at every level feels like part of the team’s success – of which it has had a lot in Champeau’s nine seasons.

Velcamp might have gotten his first chance to score a basket on Thursday night, but he has felt like part of the Rumson basketball family from the time Champeau brought him aboard as a manager.

“I interact with the guys when I’m in the front of the bench (as manager), but it was a lot more special tonight because I got to be an actual player with them,” Velcamp said. “They are my teammates and I got to hang out with my teammates for a game.”

Champeau and Velcamp drew up the plans for Senior Night early on in the season and decided that rather than wait until the end of the game to get some of the sentimental favorite into the game, why not give Velcamp the starter’s treatment? With the help of starter senior guard Teddy Sourlis and his video editing skills, the team posted a hype video in advance of Senior Night.

“All this week, I did my school work, but I couldn’t focus,” Velcamp said. “I’m sad that it’s over, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way. Thanks to this crowd, the parents, to Holmdel. They put up with 15 minutes of (Champeau) talking and five minutes out of the game just to let me get one shot.”

Rumson senior Jack Velcamp. (Photo by Robert Samuels)

It turned out to be an unforgettable night not only for Velcamp, but also the rest of the crowd in attendance, including the opposing team. Holmdel is fighting for a spot in the Shore Conference Tournament, but head coach Sean Devaney agreed his team would be a willing party to Velcamp’s special night when his friend coaching rival Champaeu pitched the idea to him well in advance.

“One of the reasons I wanted this to be the game is because Sean’s a first-class-act,” Champeau said. “I think he’s the best coach in the Shore. We had discussions about what it meant to the kid and he said, ‘Whatever you guys need, we’ll do.’

“They were so gracious and so nice and they actually played. They put up shots and defended, so I can’t say enough about Holmdel.”

Devaney is one of the Shore’s most accomplished coaches, having led Raritan to both the Shore Conference Tournament championship and the Tournament of Champions in the mid-2000’s before building a blue-collar program at Holmdel. Widely known by his peers as an “old-school” coach, Devaney and his team were glad to be part of a special moment and dug their heels in and played hard when it was time.

Ultimately, Rumson won the game, 63-50, for its 12th consecutive win. The Bulldogs hope to be in the middle of a special season, but it will be hard for any win to be as emotional as the basket their longtime manager dropped in during the first quarter of his Senior Night game.

“Even for (Holmdel), to be a part of that, those kids will never forget it,” Champeau said. “That’s something they’ll tell their grandkids. It’s a lesson in perseverance. The kid has never given up and to do that in front of his family and the whole town – awesome.”

 

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