Nick’s First Two-Pointer (with assists)

14 Dec

I need help, ladies and gentlemens
I need someone to stand beside me
I need someone to set a pick for me
at the free-throw line of life
~ Cheech & Chong, Basketball Jones

“We want Nick to play on the 5th-grade team this year.”

Todd Mowers was speaking with my wife, Nancy, about our son Nicholas. Todd knew well that Nick has Down syndrome and would have difficulties on the court that the other boys wouldn’t face. Still, he was adamant – along with his high-school son, Connor, who would be doing the actual coaching for the team and who went his dad one better. “I want Nicky on the team, and I’ll start him every game,” Connor insisted.

Now, you have to understand that our Nicky is an athlete and a fiery competitor. In fact, he wants to play football for Notre Dame – and I’m not about to discourage him. On the other hand, because of his Down’s related underdevelopment and delays, we know Nick’s unlikely to make the cut. Still, nothing stops him from keeping up on the game, practicing outside with his brother Crispin, and competing on the electronic field thanks to EA Sports. Nick’s eager to get out there and mix it up.

Consequently, I’m embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me – or Nick – that he might play basketball for his school. He prefers football, it’s true, but he does enjoy shooting baskets in the backyard, and Crispin has drilled him in the basics. Even so, basketball sign-ups weren’t even on our radar when the Mowers men approached us, and so I’m grateful that they could see Nick’s potential and the contributions he’d make – and then acted on what they saw.

And that brings us a recent Saturday and Nick’s first two-pointer in competition – an event worth celebrating for sure! Here it is, as recorded by our friend and fellow Nick-fan, Chris Quinn:

There are lots of videos showing kids with special needs making baskets and touchdowns and goals – and they’re so inspiring! I think Nick’s triumph is similarly inspiring, and Chris’s rough-cut video highlights some key features that all such moving athletic accomplishments have in common.

  1. The coaches: In Nick’s video, you’ll see Todd sitting on the bench, and his son, Connor, standing near the officials’ table. Needless to say, this whole event wouldn’t have taken place without their initiative and mentoring, and it’s to their credit that they had a vision for their coaching well beyond merely winning games. Their cheers are totally for Nick, no question. Two more points was just a bonus. It’s also noteworthy – and not so obvious on the replay – that the coach from the opposing team cheered as well. Apparently, just before Nick’s basket, Todd briefly consulted with that other coach and pointed to my son. In other words, it was a conspiracy – everybody was in on it, both sides! It’s edifying to see that a broader vision of coaching is not a rare commodity after all.
  1. The players: The coaches’ vision for Nick and the game was contagious it seems, and the players on both sides picked up on it. Note in the video how they all kept playing, but at a modified pace to allow Nick to set up his shot. Special recognition goes here to Keegan Quinn, Chris’s son and Nick’s good buddy. Do you see how Keegan not only tosses Nick the ball, but also directs him to center court? And then – *swish!* – it’s in! Keegan is first congratulate his pal, slapping him on the back as they run together to take up defensive positions. Even then, he’s reaching out to Nick, reminding him of his assignment and offering encouragement.
  1. The referee: The coaches? The players? Even from both sides? I get that. There’s something about a kid like Nick that elicits goodness from people, and, frankly, what happened on the court that day is what you’d expect in a Catholic sports league – at least at the 5th-grade level anyway. But the ref, too? You’ll see in the video where he gives Nicky a low five at the other boys townend of the court. Technically, that has to be some kind of violation of referee objectivity and decorum, right? Not here, though – and there’s more. I was told after the game that even the ref was in on the set-up for Nick’s shot – that it was even kind of his idea. I didn’t have a chance to thank him, but I’m guessing that the sight of Nick’s beaming face and fist pumps after the basket were plenty gratifying in themselves.

Coach Connor and his dad would deny that they had any extravagant motives in including Nicky on the team – that it was some kind of charitable exercise or good will gesture. Instead, it’s clear that his welcome participation – to the degree that he’s able – is in continuity with the solidarity that Nick has enjoyed from his first days at our parish school, which is itself in continuity with the spirit of the Gospel. “We are able to live this journey not only because of others, but together with others,” Pope Francis has reminded us. “In the Church there is no ‘do it yourself,’ there are no ‘free agents.’” Put another way, assists are the norm – on court and off.

Go team!
_____________________________

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One Response to “Nick’s First Two-Pointer (with assists)”

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  1. Nick’s First Two-Pointer (with assists) | One Thousand Words a Week - December 14, 2015

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