As the last minute ticked down on the clock, Nicolas Perez lined up to take the shot.
The 13-year-old Patrick Henry Middle School (Sioux Falls, S.D.) student hadn’t yet scored as the team neared the midpoint of the basketball season.
It was like the stars aligned. Perez got the ball, and both his teammates and the defending Memorial Middle School Players parted on either side of the lane, leaving Perez a clear line to the basket.
The ball swished through the net and the audience roared with excitement. Both teams were cheering him on, as well as students from both schools sitting in the bleachers.
“It was awesome,” said Memorial coach Tyler Dickes. “That’s the reason why we coach.”
Perez said he was nervous to take the shot, but once he made it, he had to double-check the scoreboard to confirm it went in.
During the school day, Perez spends much of his time with Grant Dunbar, an educational assistant, but after school, Perez is just like any other student on the team.
“I like basketball,” Perez said, adding that making friends is his favorite part of being on the team.
Dickes had spoken with Perez’s coach before the game and knew that the seventh-grade boy had not made a basket during a game all season.
With two minutes left on the clock, Dickes called a timeout, and told his team to give Perez an opportunity to shoot.
“Everybody deserves a chance at scoring a basket and doing what they love to do,” Dickes said.
Seeing the look on Perez’s face after he scored made the whole experience worthwhile, Dickes said. Both teams cheered, and Perez thanked his coach for giving him a chance to be on the team.
Patrick Henry Principal Darryl Walker sees the act of sportsmanship as a testament to the kind of students Sioux Falls has.
“Competition is fun,” Walker said. “But it’s also about being a good teammate and sometimes a good friend even to those that we really don’t know.”