Shortly after the third-quarter buzzer sounded in Glenelg Country boys basketball’s game at John Carroll on Jan. 23, Justin Paar got up from the Dragons’ bench and zeroed in on the referee holding the game ball.
Up until that point, it was Justin’s younger brothers, Chase and Cole, who represented the Paar family on the court. Cole, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, has been the Dragons’ lone underclassman starter for much of the season, while Chase stands at 6-foot-10 and is the only senior on the roster. They’ve both played integral roles for a Glenelg Country team that as of Feb. 14 is 9-8 in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) A Conference and 17-9 overall under second-year coach Garrett O’Donnell.
But enough about the Dragons’ twin towers. With his younger brothers discussing strategy with their coaches on the bench during their eventual 77-62 victory, this moment belonged to Justin, 22, who was born with nonverbal cerebral palsy and epilepsy but is just as big a part of Glenelg Country basketball as everyone else.
Justin walked over to the referee, politely took the ball and walked over to the left elbow on one end of the court. He then locked in on the hoop and unloaded an underhand shot, which caromed off the backboard and the rim before falling onto the gym floor. Before Justin could hoist another attempt, the buzzer sounded to signal the game’s resumption. He’d have to go back to the bench while his brothers tried to close out a conference victory.
And for Justin, that was no problem at all. He knew, as did those around the Dragons’ program, that his time would come again soon to show off the shooting skills learned from his brothers overs the years.
“He’s always felt a part of his brothers’ lives, and I think under different circumstances they might have led really separate lives,” their mother, Lisa Paar, said. “He’s always been a part of the team, and they’ve always included him in every way they can.”
“When they were younger, there were a lot of late nights, a lot of driving — three to four practices a week, games all weekend — [Justin] always came to everything with us,” their father, Jason Paar, added. “[Lisa] used to work nights and all, so I had them. He’s just always been involved, and he loves it, too.”
Sitting around a table during a team cookout at the Paar’s Mt. Airy home in early August, the Paar family and coach O’Donnell discussed Chase’s college recruitment.
His options to play at the Division I level were plentiful, as he’s a three-star recruit and the No. 8 prospect in Maryland for the Class of 2019, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. And by that point in the process, he had about a dozen offers from programs ranging from Massachusetts to George Washington to Nebraska. His impending decision would be a difficult one, though he ultimately chose to stay local and commit to George Washington.
Midway through a conversation centered around his future, Chase noticed Justin had not eaten yet, so he got up, walked into the house and then came back outside with a plate of food. He placed it in front of his older brother, sat back down and rejoined the conversation. It was a small gesture, but O’Donnell took notice.
“He’s always looking out for others, which is really neat,” O’Donnell said. “It was really kind of a special moment. And no one said anything. He just did it.”
According to his parents, Chase has been looking out for Justin since he was about 3 years old. Chase remembers one time, around age 4 or 5, when he chased Justin outside in the middle of dinner. The family was having spaghetti when Justin, with sauce all over his face, saw people doing yard work outside and went out to watch. With a roll of paper towels in hand, Chase ran after him to wipe off his face.
“It’s a lot of patience with him too, knowing that a lot of the time he doesn’t know what you’re saying and he gets frustrated sometimes,” Chase says now. “So you just have to deal with it and understand what he’s going through.”
Cole is not always as tolerant of his older brother but has grown to accept his quirks and appreciate his presence. There was a night recently when Cole was shooting on his backyard hoop in 30-degree weather when Justin came out in shorts and a t-shirt to watch. Any time the ball bounced away, Justin retrieved it for him.
“He lives to see us play,” Cole said. “It’s inspiring.”
Ask those who know Chase and Cole best, and they’ll say the same thing: their personalities could not be more different. Chase is reserved, humble, kind and a “silent leader,” according to their mother. Cole describes himself as vibrant and outgoing. Both players are fierce competitors, making for what O’Donnell calls “classic battles” in practice.
During game action, meanwhile, the Paars have made the most of their first season as consistent contributors on the same team.
Chase leads the team with 14 points per game in addition to averaging 10 rebounds and three blocks, and his numbers have been even better recently. He scored a season-high 26 points in a win over John Carroll on Jan. 23 and then 21 points against Loyola Blakefield two days later en route to winning Jim Coleman Honda Howard County Player of the Week on Jan. 26. Over his past five games, Chase is averaging 19.6 points per contest.
Cole, meanwhile, averages six points and five rebounds for a Glenelg Country program that sits in fourth place of the MIAA A Conference Red Division and has a chance to triple its win total from a season ago.
“They’ve been the face of the program,” O’Donnell said. “They’ve helped with recruiting, they don’t miss a workout, their attitudes are phenomenal. I can be a crazy man and a yeller and they just do a great job with it and handle it and they teach other kids how to handle it.”
Despite their stark differences, Chase and Cole have a deeper connection than most teammates do on the court, and it’s not just because they’re brothers. It’s because of all of their shared experiences growing up with Justin, helping him and learning from him along the way. Though Justin is unable to talk, Lisa says her son has “really good” receptive language and displays an array of emotions. He’s flirty and has a sense of humor and loves to be the center of attention.
Like his younger brothers, Justin provides another unique perspective to a diverse family.
“It’s funny to have the same parents and have three completely different children,” Lisa Paar said, “but all in their own right they’re forces to be reckoned with.”
Each passing Glenelg Country game is bittersweet for Lisa Paar because she knows it might be the last season Chase and Cole will ever play together. The family makes sure to remind Cole that he could likely play at George Washington, too, but that is no guarantee. He’s visited Temple and Towson and expects his college recruitment will intensify this summer, and even if George Washington offers him a scholarship, it may not be the ideal fit.
So for now, she enjoys watching her three sons play the sport they love. She was delighted to see Chase explode for 26 points against John Carroll and ecstatic that their team was able to run away with a comfortable victory. Afterwards she wondered if the Dragons could beat No. 8 Mount Saint Joseph and No. 3 St. Frances, two of the best teams in the MIAA Conference. It’s a tall task, sure, but the Dragons only lost 52-45 to St. Frances on Dec. 19, so she remains optimistic. The Dragons could see both teams again in the playoffs, which start next week.
Finally, she’s excited for Justin, who has been with Glenelg Country through it all. He’s gotten to sit next to the coaches, interact with teammates and shoot hoops at gyms all around the area. He’s even earned applause from opposing crowds, something his younger brothers surely would not be able to do.
That was again the case against John Carroll, when Justin took advantage of another opportunity to shoot his shot. During a timeout with 5 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, he launched one errant attempt after another after another. But on his fourth try, with the teams about ready to retake the court, Justin floated a shot that swirled through through the hoop.
“You think when a child like Justin is born, it’s a broken heart, but he’s been a gift,” Lisa Paar said. “Chase and Cole came to heal my heart, but at the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing. He has given us perspective, and my boys are who they are because of him.”
Reach Kyle Stackpole at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @kylefstackpole