Ben's Babbles A halftime shot for a lifetime

High school romance leads to free-throw proposal

His mouth dry, his knees shaking, Jake Johnson did something he had done hundreds of times before - stepped to the free-throw line at Horizon Christian School. He was about to take the shot of his life.

Christina Brown's knees were also shaking, quite badly in fact, as she too stepped to the free-throw line.

Weeks earlier, Johnson had put a plan in motion to ask the girl who he calls his "best friend and someone I would love to spend the rest of my life with" to marry him.

There were Facebook messages and texts discreetly sent to friends, and quick conversations when Christina was not around.

He knew he wanted to propose in the Horizon gym. Both Christina and Jake played four years for the Horizon basketball teams, spending countless hours practicing and playing the game they loved.

"The first time she ever noticed me was when I was playing basketball freshman year," Jake said.

Jake was the new kid who transferred to Horizon his freshman year. Christina had attended from grade school and had a close-knit circle of friends.

Many of their friends were friends of each other and they soon found themselves in the same orbit, thanks to a few friends, particularly Philip Stenberg and Liz Taylor, who thought they would make a good couple. They proved to be right.

"They were the match makers," Christina said.

They went to every formal dance together and were so connected at the hip that Athletic Director Oscar Stenberg refused to allow them to ride in the same van on road trips so they wouldn't be a distraction.

"We grew up through high school together," Christina said.

They both decided to attend Corban University in Salem where they are now sophomore education majors.

When they both began planning to attend the same college their senior year, Jake knew which way he wanted the relationship to go.

"I knew it was serious and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her," he said.

That set the stage for Friday night in the Horizon gym. Well almost.

He had originally intended to ask her during Horizon's game last Saturday. There was just one problem - heavy snow was forecast for that night, so the game was canceled Friday afternoon.

At the time Jake and Christina were in Portland doing some Christmas shopping.

That's when Jake got a text message from his mother saying that Saturday's game was canceled. He decided to move the proposal up to that night, but couldn't very well tell Christina they had to go racing back to Hood River without giving a good reason.

So it was up to his mom, Deb, to make a flurry of phone calls and move things up 24 hours.

The plan, which took weeks of complicated preparations, was remarkably simple in its execution.

Oscar Stenberg, who was in on the whole thing and eager to help unite the pair he had kept apart on so many road trips, would call down a group of recent alumni from the Hawk boys and girls basketball teams. They would be blind folded and shoot free-throws one at a time in a "contest" to see whether the boys or girls could make the most.

That's why Christina's knees were knocking. Shortly after she and Jake arrived at halftime of the girls game - after they had eaten dinner and having Jake spend the whole time internally fretting over whether they were going to make it to the game - Stenberg said he wanted her to be one of the free-throw shooters.

"I was saying the whole time "I'm so nervous for these shots," she said.

"And I was thinking 'You have no idea,'" Jake said.

The competitors went through one-by-one, including Bobby Cofrances hitting multiple sightless free throws for the boys team, and eventually it was Christina's turn.

She stepped to the free-throw line and missed shot after shot.

Meanwhile, in front of her unseeing eyes a banner was unfurled with the message "Marry Me Christina?" while Jake walked up next to her as the final seconds of the contest counted down.

As Jake started to walk up next to her and the crowd became fully aware of what was happening, Christina hit a blindfolded shot, giving him cover for the final knee-rattling seconds.

The scoreboard clock hit all zeroes and Christina removed her blindfold to reveal Jake standing in front of her.

"Christina I'm so in love with you; will you marry me?"

Somewhere in the roar of the crowd, she got out a yes, but the look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know.

Christina can barely remember the moment, and she has already had to go back and watch the video a dozen times to take it all in.

The emotions of the moment washing over them and it was not until days later that Jake could sum up the feeling that neither one of them could put into words as they embraced each other.

"It was a beautiful night."

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