Oklahoma student with rare condition makes winning shot
By JACOB UNRUH
Jan. 21, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Randy Chesser always delivers the game-ending countdown.
His daughter, Emily, hurries before time expires to make the shot on the 8-foot dirt path she's created around the basketball goal.
Then she celebrates.
"The Dale Lady Pirates have won the state title!"
The Jan. 9 game was not for the state championship, but Emily suited up for the first time ever in Dale red, gold and white. The special-needs freshman found her own triumph in making her first official basket during the first quarter of a win against Oklahoma Christian School, The Oklahoman reported.
"It's been a long journey," Emily's mom Stephanie said. "She definitely isn't a normal child, but she's Emily and she's great."
Just the steps involved on the night of Jan. 9 on the court were a miracle to the Chessers.
Emily was born three months early with several complications, leading to six weeks in neonatal intensive care. She had a heart condition, and Down syndrome was a possibility.
At 10 months old, her heart had healed and Down syndrome was ruled out, but she was diagnosed with Kleefstra Syndrome, a rare genetic condition. Those diagnosed suffer from developmental delay and intellectual disability, severely limited or absent speech, and weak muscle tone.
Doctors said Emily was just 1 of 50 cases in the United States. They also said there was a good chance Emily would never speak or walk.
"She is her own unique being," Stephanie said.
Emily instead used basketball to make her own path.
She started walking when she was 3½. Her family used sign language to communicate, but at 4 she said her first word. Another word came along until eventually she could say a complete sentence. Each new word was celebrated.
With her progress, it didn't take long for Emily to fall in love with the sport.
She started shooting on a small, plastic goal. She moved to an adjustable goal in the yard, spending long hours in any weather condition creating the dirt path and dreaming of big plays.
At school, when her age group goes to gym class, she's there shooting baskets.
Emily also fell hard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. A fan of Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, she rarely misses a game and is known for mimicking their celebrations.
"Anything that we get excited about, she's right there with me," Randy said.
When Emily was approached about playing, she only wanted Westbrook and Adams to attend.
"In her mind, she watches their games, so why can't they watch hers?" Stephanie said.
The Thunder played, but video was passed around social media networks of Emily winning over a crowd in a small gym east of Oklahoma City.
She entered on a defensive possession and walked up the court once Dale had the ball. She adjusted her hair and then found her spot near the right block. As her teammates ran a play, they passed Emily the ball for her first shot.
Off the back of the rim.
A teammate gathered the rebound and tossed it back. This time, Emily quickly shot.
Over the rim.
A teammate again grabbed the rebound, dribbled and bounced a pass to Emily.
This time, the shot was true.
"I think they would have let her shoot 50 times before she got a basket if they needed to," Randy said.
Emily appeared to celebrate like Westbrook before she high-fived an official. She found her father behind the bench and gave him a hug through the railing.
"That's when I was like, 'Oh my goodness,'" Dale coach Josh Forsythe said. "I'm over there fighting back tears and all of our girls are crying, her parents. It was just a really cool moment. I was really happy with how it ended up working out."
Forsythe plans to bring Emily back for another game next season. If so, it'll be another chance for her to make the big shot.
"For me, just for that few minutes that night she gets to be one of the girls and fit in and not even realize she's any different than the rest of the girls," Randy said. "Even if she didn't make it, we'd still be extra proud of her.
"But you're trying to shoot to make it."
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com