Teaching life skills with basketball

Published: Jan. 7, 2018 at 9:40 PM CST
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Ashland-Greenwood senior Kyle Kwarcinski knew at a young age he wasn’t going to be the tallest kid on the basketball court.

“He’s always been a little shorter than the other kids, so he had to learn to shoot over them and being further out makes it easier for him,” said Lisa Kwarcinski, Kyle’s mother.

He was born with Down’s Syndrome. When 6 News' Brian Mastre caught up with Kyle on a January afternoon in Auburn, Nebraska, he was playing the role of Manager and Chief Motivator for the varsity team.

“He’s always wanted to play with the older kids,” said Lisa.

Before Christmas break, Kyle suited up a few times with the junior varsity team and even played in a couple of games. It’s the one against Elmwood-Murdock that stands out.

“There might have been a few tears,” Lisa admits.

Kyle launched a three pointer with 12-seconds left in the game. He missed. The other team rebounds – and passes it to Kyle. He makes it and even beat the buzzer.

Reporter: “Did you know it was good as soon as it left your hand?”

Kyle: “Yeah.”

6 News wanted to know who selflessly passed Kyle the ball. It was junior Tommy Eggert. He even looked back to see if it went in.

“We’ve been playing with that kid for quite a while now. I thought it would be a good chance to give it to him again,” said Eggert.

“This game is more than just basketball. It’s about life lessons. We always teach the kids to do the right thing. Tommy did the right thing and that kid will remember that for the rest of his life and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Brad Zierott, Asst. Coach at Elmwood-Murdock.

Elmwood-Murdock players have their own reminders. Ben Willey is a fourth-grader at the school. He, too, has Down’s Syndrome. Ben's brother Noah is a teammate of Tommy’s, the one who made the pass.

Years from now, Ben Willey may find himself in a high school game. Will he get a pass from the other team?

“I want other kids to do that to him," said Ben's brother, Noah.

“His [Ben's] mom came up and talked to me after the game and said she worries like I worry, but it was encouraging to see how Kyle was treated and it gave her hope,” said Lisa.

Kindness isn’t always obvious until it is.

“When it’s other people cheering him on, that’s probably the greatest thing.”