MADISON, Minn. – Sometimes all we need is a shot.
Sainora Dokoche rehearsed for hers for years, and then got it – again and again.
The Lac qui Parle Valley High School freshman has Down syndrome, but more importantly, loves nothing more than shooting baskets in the high school gym.
Every day at lunchtime, “Yep, this is where she’ll be,” says Heather Sather, Sainora’s special education teacher.
It’s where Ryan Giles, the Lac qui Parle girls basketball coach, first saw Sainora. “I literally walked by the gym and saw her shooting baskets,” Giles says.
Giles was impressed by the shots she was landing, but beyond that, “It was just something special with her eyes,” Giles says. “Here’s a girl who has never had a chance to take a shot.”
No one can say that anymore.
Back in the fall Giles added Sainora to his roster. During her first game with the team he took a time out with a comfortable lead and the clock winding down and inserted Sainora into the game.
The rest is now part of Lac qui Parle Valley lore. As the opposing team eased its defense in a show of sportsmanship, Sainora put up a perfect shot from just inside the free throw line.
The crowd rose to its feet in a thunderous cheer.
“We were crying,” says senior AlaysiaFreetly.
The girls had just met Sainora that evening, but they realized this was special.
“We just burst into tears,” says senior Kaitlin Connor.
This was too good not to keep it going.
On Jan. 9 with 42 seconds left in the game, Sainora nailed another shot. She did it again on Jan. 30 with 15 seconds left to play.
Sainora Docoche spends her lunch hour every day shooting baskets in the Lac qui Parle Valley High School gym.
Meantime, the crowds were growing, along with the excitement.
“Because then she’s so happy,” explained a fan, seated in the bleachers near a Sainora sign, at a recent Friday night game. She is hoping Sainora gets another chance to play. They all are.
Looking at her supporters across the court, Giles tells Sainora, “You’ve got your own cheering section now, kiddo.”
But tonight could be even more special than Senora’s last three appearances. It’s her last game of the season – and the first game her father has been able to attend.
Sisinio Dokoche apologizes for his broken English, but flashes the smile of a proud papa as he takes a seat behind the home bench.
The inspired girls from Lac Qui Parle Valley have played to 16-3 record. But they’ll need to build a lead on a tough opponent, Central Minnesota Christian, to get Sainora into the game.
Sainora sits on the bench applauding the play of her teammates and waving to her fans across the court.
“If we can get her in tonight, the crowd’s going to stand up before it even happens,” Giles says.
Sainora was barely known outside the special education classroom when the season began. Now everyone in school knows her.
“She knows more people here than I do,” Sather says. “It has made her very confident. I think mostly she feels like she has a lot of friends.”
Down on the court, Lac qui Parle Valley holds a lead, but only by a few points. Sainora practices her dance steps at the edge of the huddle.
“She’s got a personality that doesn’t stop,” smiles Sather.
With 1:27 left on the clock, Central Minnesota Christian trails by only six points and is still in the game.
Sainora gives her couch a look. “We’re trying baby, we’re trying,” he gently tells her.
And then balls start dropping for Lac qui Parle Valley.
The crowd begins to chant, “Sainora! Sainora!”
With 13 seconds left on the clock, Giles calls a time out. “You turn around and you put that ball in the hole like we practiced,” he tells Sainora in the huddle.
The crowd erupts as Sainora steps onto the court.
If all goes right, Senora should have time for one shot before the clock expires – her teammates know it – and their opponents do too.
The girls from Central Minnesota Christian drop their defense. Freetly receives the pass and hands it to Sainora.
Sainora turns and shoots. The crowd goes silent.
The ball bounces off the rim – and drops in.
The crowd roars.
Students rush the court.
Sainora smiles and raises her arms.
In the stands, her father smiles broadly. These English words he knows, “I love my daughter,” he says.
The final score of the game, no one will remember. But this moment they will never forget.
A 4’10” freshman got her shot, and everyone in the gym walked out a little taller.