Basketball player Nathan Mathis has memorable momentThe Mathis family will never forget a seemingly normal night in Mt. Pleasant
The Panthers won 14-12, but on this particular night, the score wasn’t important.
The only portion of the Dec. 12 Fairfield seventh grade boys’ basketball C team game against Mt. Pleasant anyone will remember is the last two minutes.
Nathan Mathis was inserted into the Fairfield lineup. His instructions were simple. Nathan was to stand under the basket and wait for a pass. He did just that, and when the pass came he caught it and hoisted it into the net. He nailed it.
“It was a magical moment you could just never replace,” his mother Niki Mathis said. “We lost the game, but it seemed like in everyone’s eyes we hadn’t.”
This may not seem like a huge accomplishment for a child, but for Nathan it is. Nathan is a special needs individual who was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrome is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that can cause those affected to be unusually tall and thin. Serious complications can arise, including skeletal defects and heart problems.
Nathan’s mental capacity is that of someone much younger. He cannot play contact sports. His chest protrudes outwards, forcing him to wear a brace around his chest and back every day. When Nathan entered the lineup and made his shot, he genuinely did not understand why the majority of the crowd was crying and standing for him. In his eyes, all he did was make a shot.
“Oh it was unbelievable,” Nathan’s father Billy Mathis said. “He has done Special Olympics, but he has always wanted to play basketball. It made us very proud.”
Brent Blakely, Nathan’s special education teacher and basketball coach, persuaded Niki and Billy to let Nathan play basketball. Nathan’s love for the sport is immense, so Blakely spoke to his parents.
“Working with him in the classroom made me feel comfortable with the whole situation,” Blakely said. “I think part of our job as educators is to offer as many experiences as possible to our students that will relate to life.”
Niki and Billy, who adopted Nathan when he was 11-years-old, were skeptical at first. They were worried Nathan would not be able to handle the workload. Blakely said his team has been cheerleaders for one another all season, and he was confident that Nathan would fit in with the squad.
The basketball team overall has been a positive experience for Nathan. It can sometimes be grueling for him, but he was on the bench for all five games the C team played this season. When he finally was able to get into the game, it made all the hard work worth it.
“It was so awesome,” Nathan said. “All of my teammates were saying I did a great job. I had fun.”
Nathan scored four points on the night. His teammates picked him up off the ground and carried him off the court. It was safe to say there weren’t many dry eyes in the gym.
The Mt. Pleasant players, coaches and fans realized what was going on and how special it was. In the last two minutes, two teams became one. Families from both sides have stated how amazing they thought the night turned out to be.
“We all have something to learn from each other and I think Nathan taught our team a lot from this experience,” Blakely said. “I also give a lot of credit to the Mt. Pleasant’s coaches and staff, as I told their players after the game the other night they showed character by handling the situation the way they did.”
Walking out of gym, Nathan said something to Niki that she’ll never forget.
“Mom,” Nathan said smiling, “I just beat the Panthers.”