Cotter rallies behind basketball player’s 2 points

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COTTER, Ark. (AP) - In the Feb. 13 edition of The Baxter Bulletin, a brief story in the sports section mentions that Cotter senior Shane Willis scored the opening basket in a game that saw the Warriors lose to Flippin. The official scorebook of the game reflects Willis finished with two points.

Sometimes, though, brief stories and statistics kept at a high school basketball game don’t begin to tell what really happened; what two points can mean, and what two points can tell us about ourselves.

Shane Willis is a member of the Cotter Warriors boys basketball team. He’s not a star player, never has been. Anyone watching Cotter High basketball this season has seen Shane sitting on the bench. But, sometimes, a player’s impact can’t be measured by stats, or wins and losses.

If you talk to Shane’s teammates, they’ll tell you he’s just a guy on the team who’s pretty cool to hang out with. Then, after they start talking about him, you learn that Shane’s not just another member of the team - he stands out in his own way.

Shane has Down syndrome, a condition that causes cognitive disabilities to varying degrees. He has hearing difficulties and communicates at school through an interpreter. Shane’s teammates, though, can generally understand what they need to when they talk to him.

This is the first year Shane has played on a school basketball team, his grandmother, LeQuita Foster, told the Baxter Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1oWoWEY ). She added how he grew up playing and loving the game, and was a huge fan of an uncle who played in high school.

“He brings an energy to the team, to the locker room,” said Donovan Fennell, a senior starter for the Warriors. “He’s a good teammate, he chases his own rebounds - he’s just a good guy. He does shooting drills with us, does the things you do when you’re on a basketball team.”

For those with less skill on a high school sports team, going to the game means a lot of time sitting on the bench. Shane spent a lot of time this year in that spot.

“He wants what everyone else wants. You might not know that if you don’t know him well,” Foster said. “He’s like every other kid. He wants to play, and when he’s on the bench, he’s frustrated. But, he gets over it quickly.”

The Cotter High basketball team had its Senior Night last Tuesday, facing Flippin in the Warriors’ final regular-season home game. That’s where the seniors walk out on the floor before the game with their parents and get recognized.

Shane, a senior, got to do that. What he didn’t know at the time was that special moment was about to be seriously trumped.

Cotter coach Chad Wheeler got together with Flippin coach Dion Hargrove before the game and asked if they could put together a special play for Shane. Hargrove, who had once done something similar, immediately agreed.

“Dion knew what it would mean, so he said yes,” Wheeler said. “He went back to his team and told them what we wanted to do.”

With everything set, emcee Jeff Crawford began belting out the names of Warriors players to a packed Cotter Coliseum crowd. Crawford announced four starting players, then paused before naming the fifth starter.

“Then, when Jeff called out Shane’s name, he just lit up and the crowd went crazy,” Foster said. “We (his family) were in the bleachers just crying our eyes out, just blubbering.”

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