Down Syndrome doesn't end hoop dreams

Reported by Casey Roman – bio |email

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – When Coach Roghelia told his basketball team they were getting a special player, they thought he was talking about talent – not special needs.

Ross Burgess had always had hoop dreams, and thanks to Brunswick County's Pacers, he got to take a shot at making them come true.

The Pacers are one of over 50 teams in the Brunswick County Recreation program for 5th and 6th grade students.

Ross Burgess joined this season, with eyebrows raised from his teammates, who worried that he was too small and wouldn't be able to keep up.

"They asked if he could be a manager," said Coach Roghelia. "Maybe pass out towels or water. But if he was going to be on the team, he was going to play."

He told his players to take their new teammate on just like any other friend, and use the experience as an opportunity to learn from others.

"If you want a blessing, be a blessing," explained Roghelia. "Let this guy on the team and you're going to get more out of it then him."

Roghelia trained Ross like any other player and the entire team enjoyed his enthusiasm and sensitivity for others. His closest comrade is Lauren Spivey, the team's only girl and arguably, one of their best players.

Earlier in the season, Lauren was elbowed in the eye during a play. She remembers Ross rushing to her side to wipe the tears from her face.

It seems that Ross is known for his caring and cleanliness. Before every game, Ross brushes his hand around his coach's cheeks to check for stubble.

On Saturday, February 26, the Pacers played their last game of the season.

Traditionally, Ross is brought in for a period or two and the team has agreed to do what they can to make sure he gets the ball.

Over the season, Ross has taken countless shots, but has never made a basket. But Saturday, to the backdrop of a roaring crowd, Ross scored his first points.

"It just brings tears to my eyes!" said Karen Fay, Ross' caregiver. "He's been working on it all season long!"

"His head is going to be so huge," joked his mother Tiffany Frink.

Karen Fay says the experience has given Ross an outlet for exercise and a few hours a week of feeling just like any other kid.

His mother Tiffany says that Ross has never complained about not being able to do something, and if anything, expresses a feeling of invincibility.

After the game, the team gathered at the Pepperoni Grill for pizza and trophies. Coach Roghelia told the group of players and parents that it was a true honor to having Ross on the team before handing him his award.

With a big smile, Ross took his trophy – but not before checking coach's face for stubble!

Ross promises to be back next year with a ten basket record.

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