It’s not often that a team dogpiles at the center of the basketball court after getting blown out by an opponent. It’s even more rare to see the winning team join in on the celebration.
Then again, moments like the one shared Jan. 8 between the Mattituck and Westhampton Beach seventh grade boys basketball teams are few and far between.
It all started in the final period, when Mattituck’s Miguel Borrayo, who has Down syndrome, entered the game for the first time. After originally joining the team as its manager, Miguel hadn’t seen much playing time this season.
Early in the losing effort, Miguel, 13, was telling his coach how badly he wanted to play.
“He kept looking down at me and saying ‘Coach, put me in, put me in,’ ” recalled coach John Amato. “’I can do it. You know me.’ ”
Recognizing that his team could use something to boost their spirits in a lopsided contest on the road, Coach Amato told Miguel it was his turn to play.
The Tuckers kept furiously feeding their teammate the ball in hopes of watching him score. Perhaps it was nerves, or even a little rust, but Miguel, who Coach Amato says has a good outside shot, continued to miss.
The Westhampton Beach coach then called a timeout. Jerry Lipski said he noticed his players had backed off on defense to give Miguel some space to score the basketball. During the break, he reinforced to his team the opportunity they had to give an opponent the thrill of a lifetime through good sportsmanship.
Out of the break, Westhampton Beach guard Luke Frannon threw a perfect pass. But unlike all the others he had thrown that day, this one went straight into Miguel’s hands.
The kid from Laurel steadied his shot and fired the ball up toward the basket. It went straight through the hoop.
“The crowd went wild,” said Charlie Nicholson, whose son Christopher was playing in the game at the time Miguel scored. “You see these types of stories on ESPN, where players with unusual circumstances or disabilities do something really special. This brings it to a local level.”
Unfortunately for the Borrayo family, which includes Miguel’s mom and dad, older brother and two sisters, the game at Westhampton, which was played on his sister Silvia’s birthday, was one they couldn’t make. Miguel called them right away afterward.
“He called us saying, ‘I scored, I scored,’ ” said his older sister, Maria.
His older brother, Marcos, said hearing about Miguel’s accomplishment that day moved him.
“Tears of joy, tears of everything,” he said.
Mr. Nicholson has already written to Section XI requesting they reward the Westhampton Beach team with a sportsmanship award, though he hasn’t heard back yet.
Both Coach Amato and Coach Lipski called it a “special moment” for everyone involved.
“Seeing Miguel in there really changed the atmosphere for our team,” Coach Amato said. “We were losing big and they were pretty bummed. It immediately pumped them up. They wanted to see him do well.”
Miguel ultimately scored one more basket, raising his line in the box score to four points.
When the final buzzer sounded, his teammates tackled him in celebration.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Christopher Nicholson, who described Miguel as a good teammate who is always quick with a high-five or to help keep score when he’s on the bench.
Coach Amato said Miguel’s presence on the team also helped his teammates learn some valuable lessons.
“I told them I was so proud of how they worked with him all season,” he recalled. “They were calm and helpful. I told them, ‘You guys are going to be very successful in life. I don’t know if you realize how special you all are.’ ”
Miguel, on the other hand, is keenly aware of his abilities, his coach said.
“He just loves it. He wants to be involved. He really believes in himself. And he does have skill.”
Miguel’s family says he has always been good about knowing what he can and can’t do. Football, a sport his brother played in high school, is his favorite sport, but he understands why he can’t play competitively, his family says. When he knows he can accomplish something he goes for it, though. Last month, he was one of Mattituck Middle School’s students of the month.
Miguel, who has played CYO basketball at Cutchogue East over the years with many of the same players, said his love for his teammates was his favorite part of playing on the school team this year.
“They’re nice,” he said. “And friendly.”
His father, also named Marcos, said the way Miguel’s classmates embrace him at school only helped the bond grow on the basketball court.
His mother, also named Silvia, said she’s very happy about the way Miguel’s teammates treat him.
“I’m very proud of his accomplishments and the way the community has accepted and loved him,” she said.
Four days after Miguel’s big game, the Tuckers faced a team featuring a player with a disability, Coach Amato said. Remembering the lesson they had learned in the game against Westhampton Beach, they did what they could to help the other team’s player score.
Though their opponent never made a basket, the Mattituck squad knew they had something to be proud of.
“They paid it forward,” Coach Amato said.