Crowd cheers athlete’s return after shooting

Justin Thompson (c.) is wheeled onto the court as his family applauds for him. Archbishop Molloy played Fordham Preparatory during a game at Molloy in Queens on Friday, January 3, 2012.
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joseph Staszewski

Justin Thompson has shown exemplary strength and courage under the most difficult of circumstances.

That was not going to change, as his father Donald pushed his wheelchair to center court at Archbishop Molloy’s Jack Curran Gymnasium.

“His courage and his positive attitude have been what’s helped keep us going,” Donald Thompson said. “The way Justin has been strong and not breaking down, you can’t go in and break down. It defeats the purpose.”

As Justin Thompson, paralyzed from the waist down, got a standing ovation from a packed house, he simply flashed his signature smile and put his finger in the air. The crowd chanted “Justin Thompson” on the night dedicated to the soccer and basketball standout before the boys’ hoops team’s game against Fordham Prep Friday. He sat with more than 20 members of his family in a special section near the stage.

“That was the idea,” Justin Thompson, who admitted to being nervous, said of his subdued response. “I’m glad everything looked like that. I don’t want people feeling bad for me. Eventually I’m going to be back on my feet. It’s still looking good. With these types of injuries it’s really early.”

He was shot in the back on Oct. 21, 2011, leaving a party with friends in Cambria Heights. It was thought to be a gang-related shooting and that Justin Thompson, a model student, was not the intended target. Friday was his first day back in the school since then. Police said Monday no arrests had been made in the case.

“It showed him even when he comes back to the school, we will be there for him,” girls’ soccer star Victoria Antonino said. “The support from Molloy is never going to go away.”

The help from the school has been overwhelming and ever-present, according to Donald Thompson. Alumni had raised more than $30,000 as of Friday night along with $7,800 from a mission collection at the school, according to alumni development director Craig Katinas.

“The kid just has a good spirit, good character,” legendary Molloy Coach Jack Curran said. “He is going to fight this thing right through.”

The money collected at the door against the Rams went to Thompson. People could purchase raffle tickets, T-shirts and bracelets. Players from the boys’ soccer team walked around with donation boxes and the girls’ squad had a bake sale in the cafeteria. People looking to donate can contact the school’s guidance office.

“It makes you feel good knowing that you’re helping such a great kid,” senior defender Jack Moravek said.

Doctors have told Justin Thompson he could walk again with more intensive and constant physical therapy. Much of the money raised by Molloy will go toward paying for equipment for the house and more than the three days of treatment he is currently getting per week.

Justin Thompson, who is being home schooled now, has designs on walking through the halls of Molloy again.

“We believe firmly in God that one day, at God’s time, he will be up and running,” said his father, who spoke to the crowd at halftime. “The odds are good.”

Justin Thompson got to sit and watch the Stanners beat Fordham Prep 42-30. He asked junior forward Marko Kozul for a dunk and he delivered with a one-handed slam to beat the halftime buzzer. He and the rest of the players greeted Justin Thompson at midcourt before the game.

“I made his wish come true,” Kozul said.

Justin Thompson’s next desires are to walk and get back to Molloy on a more permanent basis. The outpouring of love and support he was shown Friday gave him even more motivation.

“It’s early,” he said. “It’s real, real early and I just need some time to heal.”

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