SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s Monday afternoon in the John H. Myles Gym at Johnson High School, and the Atom Smashers boys basketball team is starting their warm ups for the day’s practice. This week’s work is crucial, as the Smashers will try to win a region tournament title in the coming days.
As layups turn into high flying dunk attempts, the star of the Smashers’ last game sits quietly off to the side. Just as he does every practice.
Most team managers probably don’t have nicknames, but most team managers aren’t Antonio Edwards. The folks at Johnson High know him as “Top Flight."
“Top Flight” is a 15 year old freshman, and he has autism. His mother was a former student of Johnson head coach Utaff Gordon at Beach High School, and Gordon invited him to stick with the Smashers as a team manager after trying out for the team earlier this year.
Since then, “Top Flight” has become as much a part of the team as anyone in uniform.
When asked his favorite part of being with the Smashers, Edwards says it’s being around the players.
“They’re like my brothers,” he says. Edwards isn’t the only one to notice that connection.
“It’s at the point now where the players are very protective of him," Gordon says. “They look at him as a little brother.”
“He’s just a blessing to have around," Gordon smiles.
There were a lot of smiles because of “Top Flight” recently.
Friday night was senior night for the Smashers, and Johnson was set to face an overmatched Islands team. That’s when Gordon was approached by girls’ head coach Brandon Lindsey with an idea.
What if “Top Flight” got into a game?
"I thought it would be good for him personally, " Gordon says. “Next thing I know, he’s in the gym before all of us getting shots up. So I knew he took it seriously."
Late in the game and with the Smashers comfortably ahead on the scoreboard, the moment everyone on the Johnson bench hoped to see actually happened.
“Top Flight” scored not once, but twice in a matter of seconds. The team and the fans went crazy.
“I was not nervous at all,” Edwards says. “I never get nervous.”
“The first basket he made, I was happy,” Gordon remembers. “But it was the second basket that I got emotional because of the crowd reaction. It was like everybody was pulling for him.”
“Top Flight” ended the night in the scorebooks with four points in the Smashers’ 93-57 win. In a season that could see Johnson contend for a state championship, those two baskets may be the most memorable.
“He came over to the sideline with a shimmy shake,” Gordon laughs. “You can never tell with him in terms of how he approaches things because he’s almost like The Iceman. He’s emotionless. But when he came over with the shimmy, I knew he felt good about himself.”
Edwards is quick to point out Friday was not the first on-court appearance of his career. He got into a game a year ago as an 8th grader at The STEM Academy also.
On Monday, “Top Flight” is back to his team manager duties. Warm ups are finishing up, and Gordon will soon divulge the practice plan and what he hopes the players gain from practice.
But the longtime head coach adds the person helping the Smashers gain the most important lessons is sitting over on the sidelines, watching intently as always.
“'Top Flight’ has become like a teaching tool for the rest of my boys,” Gordon says. “He’s teaching us all a lesson in humanity.”
The Atom Smashers are the #2 seed in this week’s Region 3-AAA Tournament. They’ll play their first game Thursday night in the semifinals at Windsor Forest High School.