The eye doctor told Dustin Cole’s parents the news no one wants to hear: Their young son had serious vision loss in one eye.
He won’t be a fighter pilot, the doctor said to them. He won’t be a good athlete, at least not in a sport that requires strong eye-hand coordination or depth perception like baseball or basketball.
Dan Cole winced that day about 12 years ago. We’ll see about that.
Hours before the Bonny Eagle High basketball team ran onto the court at the Cumberland County Civic Center to play Portland for the Western Class A championship Saturday night, Dan Cole got another last laugh. Dustin, all of 5-foot-9, maybe 165 pounds, is the star point guard and scorer for the Scots. He was the precocious freshman who has developed into the senior who may be the best high school player in Maine.
He sees the basketball game like few others through one good eye.
“That eye has perfect vision,” Dustin said after practice Thursday. “I’m legally blind in the other. I see things but they’re blurry. I don’t have a problem with peripheral vision.”
He shrugged. So he has about 75 precent vision loss in that one eye. He’s capable of scoring 40 or 50 points in a game. His passes are accurate. He is frequently double-teamed but sees the open spaces he glides into before anyone can react.
He has accepted a scholarship to play basketball and study at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. The Division II program is coached by David Chadbourne, the former star guard at Wells High and Saint Joseph’s College.
“It will be a good fit,” said Dustin. He has traveled the country with his AAU teammates from March to deep into the summer but decided northern New England would be his home for the next four years. He sees things so clearly.
Who knew or would imagine he had impaired eyesight?
“We told Dustin, no excuses, keep your head down, your nose clean, work hard and always try to do the right thing,” said his father.
Dustin didn’t mention his eyesight to his coach, Phil Bourassa, and they’ve known each other for about seven years. He saw no need. Bourassa only found out when he and Dan Cole were talking casually this winter.
“I was joking around when Phil said how well Dustin did something. Yeah, he’s pretty good with one good eye.”
“I was amazed,” said Bourassa. “But having known Dustin and how easily he overcomes obstacles, I wasn’t exactly surprised.”
To many Maine basketball fans, Dustin Cole has always been one-dimensional. Outside the Bonny Eagle community he’s been called arrogant, selfish, a ball hog. He was called for a technical for taunting an opponent late in Wednesday’s win over Falmouth in the Western Maine semifinals. See, said his detractors, see.
Those within the Bonny Eagle community see the opposite, describing Dustin as a little shy and caring. Even-tempered. Humble, a description rarely heard in today’s world.
Teammates want to play with him. He raises their performances.
“You see what he does and say, I can do that. It’s very contagious,” said Zach Dubiel, a forward. When Dubiel’s off the court, he admits he sometimes watches the game as a fan.
Ben Malloy, a junior guard, met Cole in first grade. They’ve been like brothers since. Malloy can still be surprised by his friend’s creativity on the court. Ben Ledue, an assistant coach, sees how hard Cole pushes himself in practice and shakes his head.
Cole’s high school career ended Saturday night. For all his accomplishments, he and his teammates have not won the Western Maine final that would put them in the state title game. Or a state championship. A very good Portland team denied Cole this time, 70-60. Afterward, Cole watched Portland players cut down the nets. Some of his Bonny Eagle teammates couldn’t or wouldn’t.
“Some of his gifts are not basketball-related,” said Nick Pelotte, whose high school career at Valley High of Bingham was perfect – four Gold Balls and four undefeated seasons.
Pelotte and Bourassa were college roommates at Plymouth State. Pelotte mentors Cole and is a friend despite an age difference of about 12 years. Older fans are reminded of Pelotte when they watch Cole play.
“He listens,” said Pelotte. “He’s so level-headed. This dude does it the right way. If anyone deserves to have (his high school career) end on a good note, it’s him. I’d give him one of my four shots at the Gold Ball if I could.”
Applause from both sides of the arena greeted Cole’s name when he accepted his runner-up medal Saturday night.
It was a bittersweet sound.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: