After the Whistle: Why the opposing team let this 5th grader score her first basket

After The Whistle

Overcoming adversity is something many athletes tend to experience — and adversity looks different for everyone. For a Culbertson, Montana basketball player, she’s had to overcome many challenges from day one.

Eleven-year-old Lauren Rumsey has been playing basketball for about a year now.

But the road wasn’t easy for her.

She was born prematurely at just 24 weeks, weighing 1 pound 7 ounces, and spent 13 weeks in the NICU.

Lauren was born with cerebral palsy. It affects her from the waist down, which is why she wears leg braces.

“She does wear AFOs which are braces that go just below her knee down to her ankles that keep her foot in an ‘L’ shape so she runs on her tippy toes in the video, you can see that she runs a little bit different than the other kids but it doesn’t stop her she hustles her butt all the time, right? Goes after the ball things like that. It does limit her but it doesn’t stop her,” said Tessa Rumsey, Lauren’s mom.

Lauren has gotten creative with the sports she plays because of her disability.

“When she started doing taekwondo she was wearing braces in her shoes. And then, now, the last couple years, she’s graduated out of that and just doing it without her braces in her shoes we kind of pushed her a little bit she can do it but yeah the main goal is just to have fun, and if she makes a point that’d be great!” Tessa said.

Another sport she’s taking a shot at — basketball.

“So I can hang out with my friends,” Lauren said.

Lauren’s physical constraints have limited her on the court, but that’s OK.

Did you care that you weren’t scoring points or making baskets?

“I mean I was thinking like it be fun to, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. No,” Lauren said.

In mid-December, the Culbertson Titans competed in a basketball tournament in Williston. Their final game was against Bismarck’s Her Story.

Bismarck’s head coach was watching Lauren the entire game.

“By far Lauren, you are the strongest girl I’ve had the pleasure of coaching against!” said Preston Wise Spirit.

When she decided to sit out toward the end, Wise Spirit had other plans.

“And I was like, ‘Hey. Put her in! She’s gonna score,'” said Wise Spirit.

Wise Spirit asked his players to do something they’ve never done before: give the other team the ball.

“This is a different side of the coach that they haven’t seen before. Never have I willingly told them, ‘Hey, back up and let this kid score,'” Wise Spirit said.

At what point during the game did you realize everyone is here to help you score a basket?

“At the point that I did it because I didn’t know that the other coach had went to our coaches and said that,” Lauren said.

It took a few tries, but Lauren scored her first points ever on the court.

“That felt really good,” said Lauren.
“Pretty cool feeling huh?” said Tessa.
“Yeah,” said Lauren.

How about you, mom? Watching the video, how’d that make you feel?

“Pretty awesome it was, I tear up every time you think about it because as a mom of someone with a disability you just you never know if that opportunity is ever going to come for a coach to come over to your coach and say, ‘Hey, put her back in because we want her to score.’ That was pretty awesome,” Tessa said.

“I don’t know how she ended up in the middle of my whole team when the game was over. My whole team surrounded her and was cheering her on! It was a sense of happiness, like, this is literally what youth sports is all about,” Wise Spirit said.

Lauren’s mom was sick and couldn’t make it to the game. But thanks to a few fans with cell phones, it’s a moment everyone in the gym that day can cherish for years to come.

“Everybody that’s seen the video is always saying that you’re going to remember that as long as forever. I beg to differ because that’s something that I’m always going to remember,” Wise Spirit said.

“Just thank you because you saw past her disability and you saw her ability. That’s what we try to teach her. She has all the ability in the world, you know? It may take you a while to get there, but you’ve got all the ability in the world to get there. So, thank you. Because not a lot of people would do that. And thank you for teaching your girls and the other people in that gym what it’s about,” Tessa said.

“Thank you for competing and showing myself and my girls that there are bigger things than just basketball,” Wise Spirit said.

Lauren started playing on her school’s basketball team last week. She went from a rec league Titan to a Culbertson Elementary School Cowgirl.

She hopes to continue playing basketball next year and will give volleyball a shot, too.

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