As the head coach of Pine-Richland High School (Gibsonia, Pa.) boys basketball team, Jeff Ackermann is one of the most decorated and successful high school hoops figures in the Keystone State. However, the five-time Western Pa. Interscholastic Athletic League champion and winner of over 300 games almost stepped down before this season due to his son’s illness.
Bryson Ackermann, a 6-year-old and first-grader, has acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like illness that he contracted in mid-October. It left him unable to walk.
Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares the Ackermann family’s touching and gut-wrenching story. Bryson Ackermann is currently in a rehabilitation center, the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. As White writes, Jeff Ackermann and his wife, Jill, sleep in Bryson’s room almost every other night. The couple also has two other children, and Jeff is a teacher at Chartiers Valley High School (Bridgeville, Pa.).
Still, when the high school basketball season begins Friday night when Highlands High School (Natrona Heights, Pa.) visits Pine-Richland, Jeff Ackermann will be on the bench again. As he told White, the coach only decided two weeks ago to return. As it turns out, Bryson Ackermann is inspiring his dad to do what he has done for so many years.
“Just the things that Bryson is able to do motivates me,” Jeff Ackermann told the Post-Gazette. “Like when he was in the hospital, he had a breathing tube and couldn’t talk. He was able to come up with these hand signals that could let us know when he wanted something. He came up with them on his own.
“It’s pretty remarkable to watch him. He has no idea. He doesn’t know what AFM is. He doesn’t know why he could play basketball one day and two days later he couldn’t stand up any more. … No one is more tired than Bryson. He gets woken up on a nightly basis for treatments. He never gets more than three hours of sleep at a time. He has rehab every day from 8 to 4. But just how he is able to deal with everything is motivating to me.”
You can read more of White’s incredibly moving story here.