By Will LeBlond
The human body can do some pretty amazing things and Stephen LaBarge is finding out this winter just how far he can push his.
A star returner for the Newfield Boys Basketball that made a run all the way to the Class D State Championship Game last year, LaBarge was almost forced to watch his entire senior year from the Trojan bench.
LaBarge, who is also the quarterback of the football team, had something go horribly wrong on the gridiron during the fall that so nearly cost him his winter season. While playing in the team’s final regular season game against Thomas A. Edison, LaBarge carried the ball on an option play and when he tried to cut back, his knee gave way.
On the play, LaBarge tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and also partially tore his lateral meniscus. That diagnosis was not immediate though, as a positive mindset was quickly established.
“I’ve dislocated stuff before, so that’s what I thought it was,” said LaBarge. “I could put a little pressure on it, so I didn’t think it was anything that big. I thought at the least it was a dislocation.”
After the game, LaBarge was in a holding pattern for a few weeks as he awaited the results from an MRI that would determine his high school athletics future, and more importantly, whether or not he could play basketball again.
When word finally came down on his injury, the worst was imagined, but way at the end of the tunnel, there was light.
“They really didn’t give me an option that I could play on it,” said LaBarge on advice from his medical staff. “1 percent of America is ACL resistant and it was hard to believe that I could possibly be in that 1 percent. Playing wasn’t really in my head at that moment, I was more focused on physical therapy.”
ACL resistant means that someone can do physical activities, like playing basketball, without an ACL. Unbelievably, that medical condition has become LaBarge’s saving grace.
“So far through physical therapy, I’ve proven that I am in that 1 percent,” said LaBarge. “And to do physical activities, I don’t need an ACL.”
Even with the diagnosis, LaBarge is not out of the woods yet. He didn’t make his season-debut until the fourth game of the season against Tioga after he sat out the team’s first contests. Luckily, Newfield has proven to be a powerhouse in Class D Section IV once again this year. Before LaBarge even touched the floor for game action, the Trojans were 3-0.
Since LaBarge’s return, the team rifled off five straight wins to improve to 8-0 and have ranked as high as number two in the state in Class D. While LaBarge has been on the floor, it’s been in a limited capacity and there are a few hurdles that have kept him from playing at 100%.
“Probably the hardest part is the mental aspect,” said LaBarge. “It sits in the back of my head that if I move a wrong way, my knee is going to shift. If I cut, shoot, move or do anything explosive with it, it’s going to move. Really, it’s more of a mental factor at the moment.”
The process for him to get ready for a game is a long and methodical one. He wears a big brace on that left knee and even before he arrives at the gym, he has already iced it for an hour and has given himself a quad massage.
Once he’s in uniform, he does a few pregame warmup routines separate from his teammates as he is constantly testing the knee to make sure he’s good to play. Even when it feels ready to play, he still gets occasional shooting pains and is forced to sit out for a while, but it’s all worth it for the man that is playing his final season for the Trojans.
“Senior year is it,” said LaBarge. “This isn’t like the NBA where you have another season, so I do think it matters. This being my senior year definitely plays a factor in that I want to try and play it out.”
As the season presses on, LaBarge’s minutes have been going up. He started on Jan. 2 against Southern Cayuga and dropped a season-high 13 points. Moving forward, LaBarge wants that kind of contribution to continue, but his sights are set higher.
“We’d like to remain undefeated,” said LaBarge on the team’s goals for the year. “Then we want to make it to the IAC Championship, win there. And then hopefully get a good seeding for sectionals and go from there.”
LaBarge and the Trojans are home on Jan. 9 to host Thomas A. Edison. After that, they’ll hit the road to Waverly on Jan. 12 to play the Wolverines, before they return home for games on Jan. 16 against Spencer-Van Etten and then on Jan. 19 against Newark Valley.