Las Cruces boy with cerebral palsy gets his shot on the basketball court
Las Cruces Sun-News - 3/7/2020
Mar. 7--LAS CRUCES -- Late in a game pitting Picacho and Camino Real middle schools, seventh-grader Anthony Lerma passed the ball to his twin and Picacho teammate Nathan Lerma, who nailed the five-footer.
The crowd, including the opposing teams' fans, went wild.
It wasn't a buzzer-beater or a circus shot. But it capped Nathan's career night, his fifth and sixth points of the game and season. And it gave Nathan, who has cerebral palsy, confidence that he deserves to be on the court.
"It was really awesome to see him out there get his first shots," said coach Javin Gonzales, who helped show the community what inclusivity looks like during that Feb. 22 game at Sierra Middle School.
Nathan, 13, said he still can't believe he's scored some points.
"I was shocked, surprised and happy when I made a basket," he said Wednesday, March 4, at practice, nearly two weeks after the game.
Regardless of whether he's scoring, Nathan is having fun this year.
"I wanted to join the basketball team because I thought it would be fun and a great opportunity to be with my friends," he said.
Nathan uses a walker during games and a wheelchair during practice. Otherwise, he's like any other player.
Coach Gonzales said he expects Nathan to attend all the games and practices, just like everyone else.
"They (team) all look out for him, they know we're a team," Gonzales said. "We're like family, they push him when he's out there at practice to make him better so he can achieve his shot."
Melissa Gaytan -- the twins' mom -- said Anthony encouraged Nathan to go out for the team this year and she is incredibly proud of both of her sons.
"It's incredibly important for Nathan because his entire life he's always been on the outside," she said. "Although there are special-needs teams and even the Special Olympics, it's nothing like being with your peers.
"Usually he's been the manager and he's on the sidelines, and that's how he would support the team. But he's actually been able to play and be part of the team and that's never been done," Gaytan said. "If it wasn't for coach G allowing him to do that and working with him and the kids accepting him and including him, it wouldn't be possible."
One of the guys
Elijah Gonzales, 14, said he loves having Nathan as part of the team.
"We don't treat him at all different," Elijah said. "Whether he has a disability or not, he's a teammate and a human being, and we treat him like one."
That's the kind of sentiment Gaytan is looking for.
"Nathan is a 13-year-old middle school student, he's not a 13-year-old disabled middle school student. He's just a student and he deserves to do an ability that everyone else can do."
Gonzales encourages all students to try a sport.
"Sports are a great opportunity for any kid to grow. It's great for all kids to achieve their goal, whether it be a big goal or a small goal, that's one thing that I do working with the schools too," Gonzales said. "Seeing their growth and happiness is everything to me."
Jacqueline Devine is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-541-5476, JDevine@lcsun-news.com or @JackieIsDevine on Twitter.
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