• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Putting life and basketball into perspective

Matthew Heigle and Nick Gibson don't play any minutes on the court, but they contribute to the Woodford County High School boys' basketball team in ways that aren't on any stat sheet. A shared love of basketball transcends any obstacles they face in life - Matthew with Down syndrome and Nick with cerebral palsy. "They put things into perspective," says junior guard Braxton Caudill. "I feel blessed that I can play the game. And even though they can't play (in our games) . they still love the game. So it puts everything into perspective." Because of the players' character, Coach Scott Hundley and his assistant coach, Ryan Wilson, were confident they would welcome Matthew and Nick to their basketball family. "They genuinely are great people - all of our players," says Hundley. ".We love having Nick and Matthew around because . they're family. "It's not just about who gets into the game (to play). It's about the whole program, the whole team. And they're a major part of it." Nick returned to WCHS this season because he wanted to gain more experience as a statistician. The 2010 WCHS graduate was also a part of the boys' basketball program during the coaching tenures of Bob Gibson and Brad Mefford. "He's a basketball junkie," says Hundley. The WCHS coaching staff relies on Nick to track turnovers, rebounds and other statistics during a game, which helps them make adjustments at halftime and from game-to-game. Nick also scouts upcoming opponents. "The players listen to me like I'm a coach," says Nick, 24. Matthew, 15, has been team manager since midway through last season. The WCHS sophomore always makes sure every player has a towel and water when he comes out of the game, and he participates in team huddles - sometimes offering a fist- or chest-bump to players. "I love my players," says Matthew, who also operates the game clock and helps with coaching duties during practice. Every player on this team has a special bond with Matthew and Nick. Both may be limited in what they can say with words, but senior center/forward Wes Smith says, "Their message is clear. They want the same things that we want. They want to win. They want to have a good time. And they want to have fun." When Matthew says, "Jackets never lose," after a game, his words mean something to these players. "It makes you want to work harder for (Matthew and Nick) because you know how bad they wish they could come out here and do what we do," says Wes. He appreciates the positive energy that Matthew and Nick always bring to the gym. His mood turns positive whenever they're around. And those feelings only increase when Matthew gives one of his post-game talks with hands on hips, which Wes says, "Empowers you." Matthew and Nick lighten the mood - win or lose. "They've always got a smile on their faces no matter what, and that transfers over to us," says senior guard DeVontre "Tre" Winkfield. "It makes us feel better when they believe in us too." Matthew has learned life lessons - and given some too. Hundley recently had to explain to him why he got loud and upset - "peeling some paint on the walls" - after a loss. He was angry with his players - not Matthew, who was crying. Now, Hundley says he tries to make sure that Matthew isn't in the locker room when he's going to raise his voice to get his team's attention after a tough loss. And he has also come to understand "there's no winning and losing with Matthew. Everything's a win." "Having him around (our team) definitely puts life, puts basketball - puts everything in perspective," Hundley explains. "And I think that's the beauty of it all. "It's not just putting it into perspective for me . it is for the players as well." "It's always awful to lose," says Braxton, "but it's just a game . There's more to life than just playing the game."

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