WOODBURN, Ore. – Mikey Garcia is a huge basketball fan, but he can’t play the sport he loves like other kids his age.
The 12-year-old Woodburn boy couldn’t play on his middle school team because he has some serious disabilities, such as autism, developmental delays and hearing loss.
Speaking is difficult for Mikey, but you could see his face light up with enthusiasm when he talked about the March Madness tournament he’s following with intensity.
“Duke,” he said with a smile when asked who he roots for. “Coach K.”
Mikey only speaks in one or two word sentences.
His dad, Efrain Garcia, coached the 7th grade boys at French Prairie Middle School.
“Playing sports for him is pretty close to impossible because of his disabilities and how fragile he is,” said Efrain. But his dad found a way for the hoops fan to be as close to the team as he could: "He was my assistant coach."
Mikey had never been able to play before. But in the team's last game of the season he finally got his chance.
"I'll probably never be able to coach him again," Efrain said. "The last time, the week before, I talked to the coaches and asked what they thought about Mikey playing. They thought it would be awesome."
With two minutes left in the game, Mikey's dad told him he was going in.
"Their team got the ball," said Efrain. "I did not know what the coach had said to the other team. Kid starts dribbling and turned around and gave him the ball."
Tanner Mannen was on the other team that day. He's a 7th grader at Neil Armstrong Middle School.
“Our coach tells us there’s a kid who has mental disabilities,” he said. “I thought maybe he could make a shot. So I gave him the ball a couple of times.”
Mikey took two shots under the basket. He missed them both.
“You know what, at least he’s gotten the opportunity to shoot, which is awesome,” Efrain said. “Chances are he won’t ever play basketball again.”
With only a handful of seconds left on the clock, Mikey and Tanner were the only two players under the basket.
Then Tanner tossed the ball to Mikey again.
“I was thinking what if he could actually make it,” Tanner said.
“He’s been practicing,” Efrain said. “Mikey has this thing about having luck on his side, through everything he’s endured. I had a feeling that he’d make it. That third shot, he did.”
The kid who can hardly speak, didn’t need to say a thing.
“He comes running toward me, ‘I made it! I made it!’” Garcia said. “He had tears in his eyes.”
“He was crying," said Tanner. "It was so sweet. My heart was touched.”