Sixteen seconds were left on the clock as the basketball teams from Waterloo and Crestwood middle schools faced off.
The groups huddled together, figuring out what to do next. With Waterloo leading by 18 points, it was hardly a nail-biter. However, the crowd was about to cheer the loudest it had all season.
Waterloo’s team broke out onto the court with shouts of “Go Weber!” It meant it was time for No. 5, Jacob Weber, to shine. As the clock began to tick down, Jacob caught the ball from a teammate and looped around the opposing team’s defense before scoring with just seven seconds left. As the buzzer sounded, the team crowded around Jacob and the sidelines roared with applause.
“They came on and they’re all high-fiving me and, you know, how they just jump around,” Jacob said. “When we got in the locker room, they were all screaming ‘MVP.’ ”
Winning games is nothing new to the Waterloo Middle School basketball team in Atwater Township. Out of the seven games it has played during the season, it has won six. Tuesday night marked a different victory, however, because Jacob made his first in-game basket.
Jacob has high-functioning autism. He struggles with things like communicating, understanding personal space and socializing. However, Jacob still has hobbies and ambitions just like any other eighth-grade boy at Waterloo Middle School. He dreams of visiting every baseball field in the country, he won a gold medal in 4-H over the summer and loves watching his stepfather, Ken Lindsey, do tractor pulls more than anything.
Opportunity in sports
Sherry Weber, Jacob’s mother, came from a very sports-oriented family. She always knew she wanted to have her son involved in sports. Jacob’s autism, however, put him in an unusual situation. He wasn’t the strongest athlete, and he had to work harder than most.
“I just embraced it and started advocating for him, realizing that he didn’t have a voice and that nobody is going to change anything unless I do something about it,” Sherry Weber said. “So I just started putting him in these different athletic opportunities.”
Jacob first joined his school basketball team shortly after moving to Waterloo in October 2017. Sherry Weber said the middle school’s basketball coaches, Todd Wise and Mike Govan, were extremely open to having Jacob on their team.
“They have been graciously patient, willing to help, have taught the boys a level of acceptance,” Sherry Weber said. “I think the word needs to be spread that it’s OK for young athletes to accept others that may be different, may not have the superior skills that they do but embrace them as a team member.”
Coach Wise said Jacob has matured greatly since he joined the team in seventh grade. He is always at every practice, participates in everything and almost always is leading warmups. The team makes an effort to make Jacob feel supported off the floor, too, by making sure he doesn’t get picked on.
“We don’t like making Jacob feel any different,” Wise said. “I think the kids were really happy to see him score and they’re happy whenever we try to get a chance for him to do that.”
Sherry and Jacob said treating others with kindness is the best thing someone can do to make those with autism feel welcomed. Overcoming bullying has been a great struggle for Jacob. However, the support they have felt from the community has been overwhelming. Being on the basketball team has given Jacob confidence, acceptance and friendship — things others take for granted but are very special to someone with autism.
“Those moments are priceless to us,” Sherry Weber said. “If you would have told me that he would be on an eighth-grade basketball team scoring a basket and having the entire crowd, even the opposing team, screaming and cheering for him, I would have never believed you.”
The following day at school, everyone was congratulating Jacob on his accomplishment at the game. But like a true champion, Jacob’s mind already was focused on the next game.
“They may not think like you, or they process things differently or Jacob stutters and talks very quickly,” Sherry Weber said. “He’s quirky and doesn’t understand personal space, but if kids were aware of those things, they would become more accepting.”
Reporter Kaitlyn McGarvey can be reached at 330-298-1127 or email@example.com