GRAND LEDGE – Anthony Rodriguez has always wanted to belong.
The Grand Ledge senior never quite felt that way most of his life as a cognitively impaired student with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
But being a manager for the Comet boys basketball team has changed that the last two years.
And Rodriguez felt like he belonged even more after having the memory of a lifetime Thursday night during Grand Ledge’s final home game.
Rodriguez got to suit up for the game and made the first field goal of his career during the late stages of a loss to DeWitt.
“It was a great moment and I’ll never forget it,” Rodriguez said.
“Getting the playing role and getting to be in the game, it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle that they did this for me. I want to say thanks to coach and thanks to the coaching staff.”
Thursday marked the second appearance in a varsity game for Rodriguez, who has spent most of the last two years lending support to teammates from the bench, handing out water during games and practices and doing whatever else is needed.
Rodriguez made a free throw when he suited up for a game last season, and it was that taste of the court that motivated him to stick with helping the basketball program, according to his mother Kelly Rodriguez.
And that dedication and hard work led to another moment in the spotlight for Anthony Rodriguez, who was thrilled when he saw the ball go through the net Thursday.
“Obviously the game didn’t go the way we wanted, but sometimes things are bigger than the game of basketball and bigger than wins and losses,” Grand Ledge coach Scott Lewis said. “I don’t think there’s a kid in the gym, in the school or the community that’s more deserving than A-Rod. He’s been our manager two years. He’s at every weight room workout we do. He’s at every conditioning in the offseason we do. He’s at every open gym. He’s at every team event. He’s the definition of unconditional commitment.
“A-Rod has been there the last two years and not expected any playing time. Senior night, for him to put on a uniform, I thought it was important. As a team we thought it was important for him to be able to hear his name.”
Rodriguez got a steal after entering the game and made a layup on his second attempt.
“I could tell he was really nervous and really excited to get in (Thursday),” Grand Ledge junior Jayke Houghton said. “I think it’s just great for him to get in and experience everything that we’ve been through. I’m glad that he got a bucket, too.”
And DeWitt players like Tanner Reha said they were equally happy to see Rodriguez have a special experience.
Kelly Rodriguez said she is thankful for what the experience with Lewis and the Grand Ledge basketball program has done for her son the last two years. She said the experience last year made Rodriguez finally feel like he belonged.
“Being a manager meant more to him than anything in the world because he felt like he was part of the team,” she said. “He loves it — he absolutely loves it. He’s afraid for it to end because he doesn’t want to lose the feeling of being included.
“I thank Scott for everything they’ve done to help him feel included. Here it was kind of like the waterboy actually getting a chance to feel included just like everybody else. Being a special needs kid and cognitively impaired student, he was feeling just like everyone else. He spent all four years trying to feel like that.”