Paul and Beth Reichart find their place behind the Doherty boys basketball bench about the time that warmups for the varsity game get going.
They settle in, they smile and they greet the fellow fans and parents who make sure to say hello. A local real estate broker, the Doherty basketball games are events that Paul looks forward to. Considering his two sons are announced as starters for the Spartans, the anticipation hardly comes as a surprise.
"I get worked up over two things," he says as game time approaches. "I don't like it when my kids get clobbered and no foul is called and I hate it when they're playing great defense and a foul gets called on them."
He says it like most parents would make the same point 10 times over in a regular high school basketball game.
But Paul isn't like the rest of the parents. He has come to really appreciate watching his boys play basketball. About a year ago, he wasn't sure one of them was going to be alive let alone getting high-volume varsity minutes.
His older son, Schafer, is a junior for Doherty and having a good season. Through nine games, he's averaging 14.6 points per game which leads the team.
"We run everything through him," Doherty coach Eric Steinert said.
It's a wonder that Reichart is even on the floor. On Jan. 23 a series of events kicked off that put his basketball future — and overall life — in extreme jeopardy. Through his battle back, he brought a major sense of perspective back to the Spartans and the Colorado Springs community as a whole.
Toxic shock syndrome.
The phrase alone sounds like a made up condition that someone would hear about from watching reruns of House M.D.
A quick Google search affirms that the condition is real and it's what Schafer had to battle. He had played in a rivalry game against Palmer on Jan. 18 last year. He scored eight points and was 2-for-17 on shot attempts. It wasn't his best game but that was in part to his feeling under the weather.
A combination of Influenza A and strep throat had attacked his body. In the coming days his heart, kidneys and lungs become punching bags for the bacteria. Something was very wrong and a trip to the hospital revealed that some tough decisions had to be made.
Schafer was choppered to Children's Hospital in Aurora. The doctors told Paul and Beth that in order for Schafer to live, they had to put him on ECMO. That decision, however, was going to come with its own risks. He could be susceptible to a stroke and he was in danger of losing extremities.
The call for the Reicharts was easy.
"We would've taken him in any condition," Paul said.
ECMO it was, but at such an early stage there was no guarantee that it was going to save Schafer's life.
"I drove up to Denver to see him the day he got sick, I mean I drove for an hour and a half thinking I have no idea what's about to happen," Steinert said. "That's a real feeling that you don't experience very often. We may lose a kid that's such an integral part of who we are and a great kid."
Schafer was in the hospital for 45 days. Paul and Beth were constantly at his side but the family dynamic had to remain intact. Drew, a freshman at Colorado Springs Christian School at the time, was in the middle of his own basketball season.
With his parents in Aurora at Schafer's side, it was Paul's brother and sister-in-law that held the household structure together.
At this time, support from across the city was pouring into to help the Reichart family. Three days after Schafer's hospitalization, Rampart and Doherty met in a Class 5A Colorado Springs Metro League game. The day served multiple purposes as Rampart put on a fundraising effort for Schafer.
Several players on the Rams roster know Schafer and were both shaken by the news of his illness and eager to do their part to help.
On Friday, the Rams and Spartans will meet for the first of two CSML showdowns this season. It was mark the first time they've played each other since Schafer's fundraiser and it will also serve as the official re-opening of Doherty's refurbished gym. During the Spartans' 49-37 win over ThunderRidge earlier this week, the Reicharts were greeted by a couple of members of Rampart's team.
They kept up to date with Schafer's progress each and every day as did countless people throughout the area.
"About 1,000 people visited him in the hospital in the 45 days he was there," Paul said.
Back home, Drew had to maintain his own life, even with the weight of his hospitalized brother hanging over him.
A basketball family at heart, the younger Reichart dove into the tasks in front of him in an effort to keep his mind on the possible outcomes.
"I used basketball and school to take my mind off him," Drew said. "It's hard and it's something I didn't really want to acknowledge and so I was able to use basketball and school as kind of a distraction."
Schafer started battling enough that he had gotten past the danger of dying. As far as basketball goes, he was far from out of the woods. The risks that came with the ECMO treatment started presenting themselves.
"His fingers were all black," Paul said.
Slowly, his circulation started returning and a complete recovery was suddenly in the cards. In fact, the doctors started giving timelines that his organs would start getting back to their normal functions. But those timelines were off and it became obvious that Schafer was a fighter.
"They said it'd be like five weeks on ECMO and it was like three days," Schafer said. "They said it'd be nine months for my kidneys and it was like two months."
That became the case with his heart as well. His lungs also recovered, but at this point Paul guesses they're at about 80 percent capacity.
"See that? He's getting tired," Paul says pointing to Schafer on the floor.
ThunderRidge knows that Schafer can shoot so their man-to-man defense is designed to keep the ball out of his hands. He's working harder than he's used to get open and get off a quality shot.
He's held scoreless for the first half of the first quarter against the Grizzlies and finally scores on a reverse layup with 4:02 left.
His level of play didn't just return over night. It was something he had to get back to and it started with the very basics.
"I had to learn how to walk again," Schafer said. "I couldn't eat anything and I couldn't drink for like two weeks. I was getting everything through a feeding tube."
As summer basketball approached, his doctors gave him the okay to play, but the feeding tube was still in.
That meant there had to be some care taken when he was on the floor, a condition that Steinert was happy to account for considering the nightmare Schafer had already been through.
"The doctor said 'I will allow you to play but don't take a charge, don't get in traffic, just go out there and run,'" Steinert said. "And he had a literal feeding tube in."
The entire scenario sounded like something that could give a parent fits. A child who had been near death just five months early getting back on the floor a potentially getting knocked around by opposing players.
Paul waves at the idea like he's swatting a fly out of the air.
"After recovering from he went through, basketball was easy," he said.
Normalcy has returned to the Reichart family. Drew - now at Doherty and getting announced in the Spartans' starting lineup with Schafer - is relishing the opportunity to share the floor with his brother.
"It's been awesome," Drew said. "Our chemistry's great and that helps the team. It's also a good relationship builder too."
The brothers now help each other out when watching film and they get to develop their abilities and mindsets together.
Those benefits are seen when they're on the floor.
It's been a rough start to the season, but the Spartans are on a three-game winning streak and feel like they'll contend in the CSML.
Schafer is a big part of that of that confidence. Steinert has no problem acknowledging just how much he means to the team both on the floor and as an emotional lift.
"He's everything you want your kid to be as a parent, he's everything you want your student to be as a teacher," Steinert said. "He's everything you want your players to be. If you want me to show you a Doherty Spartan I'm going to pick Schafer."
The fact that Steinert can say that is every bit as remarkable as it is for Paul and Beth to be able to stroll into the Doherty gym on a Wednesday night and watch both of their sons compete.
At the end of January last year, it would've been considered a miracle.
With Schafer as proof, every once in a while it turns out that miracles do happen.