As a long time coach of Peninsula Union Yellowjacket eighth grade boy's basketball team, I had grown accustomed to small numbers showing up to try out for the team. With only 41 students from kindergarten through eighth, Peninsula Union Elementary has one of the lowest average daily attendances in Humboldt County. After a preliminary meeting, it looked like we would have 8 players at the most trying out. We have never cut any players at Peninsula, located in Samoa, in the 15 plus years that I have been a volunteer coach. Only two of the players coming out were in eighth grade and 5 were in either in fifth or sixth grade. I already knew it would be a rough uphill battle of a season. But the few that were there were enthusiastic and three of the sixth graders were returning players and knew what they were getting into.
At our organizational meeting, I voiced my concern about the lack of numbers on this year's team, and alluded that we may have to cancel the season. One of the kids approached me afterward. "Is it alright for Edward to play?" I was asked by one of the returning sixth graders. I had no idea who Edward was, and he noticed my confused look. "He is in the special education class here." Glen Paul students co-exist on the Peninsula campus in a rented classroom and interact daily with each other. Then I remembered walking down the hall and seeing a boy with Downs Syndrome walking with the special day students with a shirt that said, "Basketball is Life." It seems that Edward was playing against the boys at recess and held his own. I could not think of any reason to not give him a chance.
Edward's mother was concerned about his participation, but was willing to see how he would do in practice. She was not ready to commit him to game time situations and so it was wait and see. In the first practice shoot around, I could see that he had a nice shot from a set position. His motor skills needed work, as far as passing and dribbling, but he was able to master the three man weave within the first practice and showed good comradely with others on the team.
When it was time to hand out uniforms to the players before their first game, I handed Edward his and he said, "Sweet!" Pretty normal reaction. Our first game was against St. Bernard's at their gym. I was hoping to get Edward in for a few minutes each half. As it turned out, three people fouled out for our team and we had only four left on the floor. Edward ended up playing major minutes because of need and he played great. He even shot a few times but did not connect.
Edward logged some pretty intense playing time in the course of the year. One coach came up to me at half time of one of our games and told me he was instructing his team to let Edward free so he could score. He thought it was great thing we were doing at the school. At that point in the season I just thought of Edward as another player on the team and nothing else. I was a little upset because on one side I wanted him to score, but my competitive side wanted him to earn it. As it turned out, his team was not about to give up an inch to Edward and seemed to smother him in the second half. Their competitive nature took care of my worry.
In the end, Edward did score. He helped his team to victory one game with two points. It was a home game and the whole gym went crazy while Edward went back to his position on defense with arms raised in celebration. In Edward's final game as an elementary player he scored 4 points against a team that qualified for the Jay Cees Tournament in Crescent City.
It was sad to say good bye to last year's edition of Yellowjacket basketball. Not only was it no problem having Edward play, he seemed to have a calming influence on the rest of the team. Yeah, it was rough year in terms of win-loss record. But I feel the players grew immensely as persons. And I can only hope to ever have a chance to coach someone like Edward again.
I would like to thank Edward's Teacher for his support during games and practice. Thanks also to the entire Peninsula staff for their encouragement and participation. And finally thanks to Glen Paul and the Humboldt County Board of Education for giving Edward the chance. It was well worth it.