Hunter Leslie got the ball and dribbled up the court. With a man guarding him, he performed a crossover dribble between his legs from left to right and shot it.
The ball went in.
The students watching the game roared. Hunter, who has Down syndrome, turned back around, strutted up court with a slight smile on his face and high-fived his teammates.
About 300 students filled the gymnasium at Garner Magnet High School on Friday morning, before Saturday’s NCHSA state championship game between Garner (27-1) and Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell (28-1).
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But this celebration was not about the Garner High boys’ basketball team. It was about the special education students being able to show their school spirit and show off their hoop skills against a team of their classmates.
“Well, we got 99 points,” Hunter said afterward. “They got eight points, and my team won.”
He said he learned his moves from a friend. His favorite player is Michael Jordan because he played for the Tar Heels.
This is the fifth year for the March Madness basketball skills event for adapted physical education students. Each year, the adapted PE students get to play a basketball game against their classmates, who serve as volunteers.
The adapted PE teacher Jane House was the referee, and she provided an assist here and there for her students.
House said Hunter was the one who came up with the idea for the games.
“Years ago our senior leaders – the kids they were playing against – were getting ready for the senior faculty game, and Hunter was wondering whether they could play in a senior faculty game,” House said. “So we kind of put that together.
“It’s a really great big deal for the kids and to see how much they love this,” she added. “They work hard on their skills, and they like showing it off.”
House said seeing the support from the faculty and students means a lot to her and the students in her class.
“Getting the whole school behind them,” she said. “That’s just amazing.”
There were jump shots, layups, between-the-legs crossovers and spin moves. Garner coach Eddie Gray was there to pump up the students. They chanted “Trojans, Trojans, Trojans.”
After the game, they were joined by their classmates, with high-fives and hugs going around.
Gray, who helped get the game started, said he didn’t want to have a pep rally for his players. He said Friday’s game was important even for his players to realize the talents and opportunities one has in life.
“What we wanted to do was use the basketball championship to help bring attention to this,” Gray said. “It was a great marriage, because here at Garner we always feel like that we are a total community. We have a lot of different programs, we all pull together and this is one of the better things we do at this school, in my opinion.”