Andrew's Slingshot: Coaches, teammates help Shoreham-Wading River High School sophomore become a basketball player
Andrew Brennan had a wish. The Shoreham-Wading River High School sophomore wanted to feel like a true basketball player. He wanted to hear the crowd go crazy when he made a basket. He wanted to feel the floor bounce as the fans cheered his name. He wanted high-fives and pats on the back from his teammates.
There was just one problem: Andrew can't shoot the ball.
"So, yeah. That's a problem," said Matt Millheiser, Andrew's teacher and coach.
Andrew has Sjogren Larsson syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that affects his speech, skin and mobility. One of things it prevents him from doing is using his hands and arms to shoot a basketball. But that didn't stop Andrew from joining the school's unified basketball team last season.
"Andrew is just the epitome of a wonderful kid," said Caitlin Gould, Andrew's teacher and coach.
Andrew uses a wheelchair on the court. The team's "peer mentors," who act as helpers, push Andrew's wheelchair and help him catch the ball and make sure his passes go to the right players. "I just have so much fun playing with him. He's really funny," said Maddie Cummings, one of the team's peer mentors.
A few weeks into the season Andrew told his mom there was one thing missing from his enjoyment of basketball. "I want to make a basket," Andrew said.
So his coaches started thinking of ways to help Andrew. They thought about building a ramp to help him push the ball up to the rim. They thought about using a pole that could lift the ball. They thought about a robot.
"Our minds were coming up with some crazy ideas," said Caitlin.
And then they found it: a slingshot...on Amazon. It was the kind usually used to launch water balloons, but Matt figured it might work.
"The first couple of tries were not even close," said Matt. But the coaches and Andrew kept trying. They tried different angles, different helpers and even took air out of the ball to help it bounce off the backboard.
"I'd love to tell you that attempt number 400 was different than attempt number four, but it wasn't. It's not like we were getting closer," said Millheiser.
Andrew's mom saw how hard the team was trying and she too wondered if it would be a futile cause. "Did you ever think to yourself, this is not going to work?" asked News12's Kevin Maher. "Yes," said Andrew's mom.
But Andrew said he never thought that way.
And so, with three games to go the Wildcats let Andrew attempt his slingshot shot again in a game against East Hampton. Both teams gathered around Andrew at the free throw line. They cheered his name. They crossed their fingers. And this time - Andrew nailed it!
"I remember Andrew threw his hands up and he was screaming too," said teammate Bobby Tacke.
"A bunch of us were crying, including me," said teammate Maddie Cummings, who held one end of the slingshot as Andrew let it fly.
"I remember Maddie sobbing because she was so proud of Andrew, and so proud to be able to give him that moment," said Gould.
Andrew's mom was in the stands that day and said he was stunned to see the emotion on everyone's faces, especially her son's. But there was something that stuck out the most to Mrs. Brennan.
"I saw love," she said.
And she saw her son get to feel like the basketball player he always knew he could be.