After two years of serving as the team manager, Lakeview (Pickerington, Ohio) Junior High School's Nathan Honaker finally got his chance to join his teammates on the court during a game.
It was a moment that had been years in the making—and the 14-year-old made the most of his opportunity.
Last school year, a teacher noticed Nathan, who has Down syndrome, had a love for the game of basketball and asked him to be the team manager.
The Lakeview Panthers played their final home game of the season on Tuesday night, and a couple of weeks before the game, the players asked coach Denny Wippel if Nathan could suit up and be the team captain. Coach Wippel of course wanted to reward his team manager for all of his hard work the past two years and make it happen if possible.
"All I know is, Nathan deserves all the opportunities afforded to him," Coach Wippel told Bleacher Report. "He is a great kid with an awesome personality who deserved his chance."
When a roster spot opened up due to injury, it gave the eighth-grader a chance to suit up. Nathan started the special night by leading his team onto the court before taking part in the captains' meeting:
Then, in the final 30 seconds of the game, Nathan got his moment to shine after checking in.
Lakeview players made sure to get the ball to Nathan to give him a chance to show what he can do. A big LeBron James fan, he drove to the basket and recorded his first points.
The second the ball went through the net, the Panthers rushed to mob him. Just the perfect moment to cap off a victory.
Coach Wippel gave his players all of the credit for making this night happen for Nathan and the Honaker family:
"I have never been so proud of a group of kids I have coached! They understand that it is more about life than basketball. They have embraced Nathan from the first day of practice.
"Nathan brings so much joy, and spirit each and every day he is there. Sometimes, the kids want to play with Nathan more than they do practice because they like him so much."
As Coach Wippel said, Nathan has been fully embraced by the team:
Nathan has competed in the Pickerington Special Olympics (participating in basketball, bowling, swimming and track) since he was eight years old. With the support of his teammates and Coach Wippel, he was able to add yet another accomplishment to his sports career.
*All information and photos were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.