AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - School spirit and the atmosphere of competition can be intense at sporting events during Junior High and High school years.
In the wide world of sports, what happens at a small-town middle school basketball game may seem inconsequential, unless you've seen this play.
The play involves Keegan Noble, the player with the ball. Keegan’s young life is impacted by autism. But as I found out, he’s a typical student in many ways.
"I like to eat pizza and corn dogs. I play basketball,” said Noble.
Keegan’s grandmother, Mauri Noble, sheds light on his journey with autism so far.
“He was nonverbal until he was about six years old,” said M. Noble. “And we were told that at a year and a half that he was autistic. We were then told when he started school that there were a lot of things he may never do.”
Participating in basketball, as it turns out, has been tremendous in Keegan’s development.
“The kids have embraced him from day one. They protect him, they don’t let nobody bother him," said Walter Bond, Keegan’s coach. “They help him understand things. And I think that’s a lot. All the coaches on the coaching staff have embraced him. It teaches him to, first thing interacts, and do things with other people.”
“It has been a big asset to him. It’s teaching him group activities, how to handle people because that’s one thing he doesn’t do," said M. Noble.
Now back to the play: As Keegan dribbles, he loses control of the ball, which bounces directly into the hands of an opponent, Wrangler Margerum, whose team is losing at this time.
So when I see you get the ball, I’m thinking, fast break, layup, but tell me what happened.
“So he was dribbling down the court,” said Margerum. “He dropped the ball, and I was like, this kid, I know him. He’s autistic. So I tossed the ball back because I thought he’d like to take a shot. My team was kind of like what? What is he doing, but I think that he really enjoyed it because he was smiling and everything after.”
In a very unselfish act of sportsmanship, Margerum passes the ball back to Keegan and encourages him to take a shot.
“We’re down pretty bad. It’s toward the end of the game. You think a kid would grab it and take off, you know. But Wrangler, it just never entered his mind, I guess. The ball was loose, he’s picked it up and tossed it back to him," said the opposing coach Brad Rainer. "It makes you proud as a coach, you know, you try to instill that in all the people we work with and through our programs and everything we do. Wrangler has a big heart. And in all of our kids. They have caring hearts, and you know, they want to see everybody succeed.”
Although Keegan didn’t score on this play, it was a winning shot before it even left his hands as this event claimed victory in so many ways.
This is a victory for Keegan, his progress with autism and the incredible show of true sportsmanship triumphing over the competition.
You know, a lot of things can happen in middle school years, and a lot of them are not very good.
But for the players on these teams to have this special moment, and show to people of all ages, just what is really important ends up being good news.