Colfax eighth grader comes up big on basketball court

By Marlys Kruger

Although scoring in a basketball game may be common place for most players, Colfax eighth grader Tyler Blodgett had quite a thrill when he accomplished the feat in a game played at Elk Mound November 25.

Tyler is considered a special needs student and deals with several disabilities including speech and language and cognitive disabilities along with attention deficit hyperactive disorder. When Tyler told his mom, Carrie Bird, two days before the middle school basketball season was to begin he had signed up to play this year, it was quite a surprise to her.

“Tyler had never played competitive basketball before,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think so I just made sure he had everything he needed to play and he went to practice. I explained to him since the other kids on the team had begun playing at a much younger age, he was behind in skill level and may not get to play a lot. He understood but still wanted to be part of the team.”

Although Tyler is in several regular education classes, Colfax coach and middle school teacher Tim Devine had not had any previous relationship with Tyler and wasn’t sure how he would handle practices with him. He modified some of the drills and if Tyler thought he could do them, he participated but if they looked too difficult, he watched his teammates run them. Eventually he caught on to some basic plays and  began to improve on his skills. Before every game coach Devine talked to the opposing coach and to the referees about Tyler, explaining he would be playing at some point in the game and he may have a few problems following the exact rules.

Tyler played in every game for the team this season but hadn’t managed to score any points in the first few games, which of course is the best part of playing for most kids. But that all changed when the team traveled to Elk Mound for their fifth game of the season. In the fourth quarter with the Colfax boys down by a rather large margin, coach Devine sent Tyler into the game. Seeing this, Elk Mound coach Jayson Lesik called his team over.

“I talked to my players about just playing in front of him and not stealing the ball,” Lesik said. “Towards the end of the game coach Devine and myself thought maybe he should call a timeout and set up a play to make it easier for Tyler to score. During the timeout we talked about our plan as a team and wanted to make sure Tyler got as many chances as he needed to score.”

The plan worked as Tyler found the ball in his hands several times, and after missing on a few shot attempts, managed to drop the ball in the hoop. Needless to say, Tyler was very excited as were his teammates, the Elk Mound players and all coaches and fans,

“Our other games had been close and when Tyler went in, he didn’t get much of a chance to handle the ball,” Devine said. “But this game worked out for him and the Elk Mound team and our boys helped him accomplish something he will always remember. Tyler doesn’t show his feelings very much but when everyone cheered for him when that ball went in, he was really excited.”

Lesik was also thrilled to see Tyler’s shot go in.

“It was an exciting moment and you could feel the energy in the gym,” he said. “When Tyler hit the shot, it was a win for everyone. No one cared or even had a clue what the score was at the end of the game. It was a great moment that will be cemented in my coaching memories,” he added.

Little did anyone know, two seventh grade students from Colfax, using those magic phones they all seem to have, video taped the episode and posted it on the internet. When an administrator from Colfax sent an e-mail over to Elk Mound’s district administrator Ron Walsh, asking him to thank his coaching staff and players for their wonderful sportsmanship, he posted the thank you on the school’s Facebook page. Somewhere along the line, both TV stations from Eau Claire picked up on the story and found the video, making Tyler an instant celebrity.

Tyler, a boy of few words most of the time, said he was happy when he made the shot and that he tried to work hard during practice so he would be able to help his team. And, it looks like he not only did that but he helped a lot of other people realize what the true meaning of sports is.