LAWRENCE, Kan. — Championship athletes don’t see hurdles as obstacles. One area athlete is demonstrating that in a big time way.
In Lawrence, one middle school basketball player is turning his limitations into accomplishments.
A couple of bounces and a bend of the knees, that’s all it took for Southwest Middle School eighth grader Kyle Portela to become the most popular athlete on his school’s court.
Tuesday night, the Southwest Bulldogs were nearing the end of their game against South Middle School. Portela usually works as a team equipment manager, but on that night, coaches had a different plan.
“He looks at me and says, ‘You’re gonna play in the game,'” Kyle recalled.
The 14-year-old lives with cerebral palsy, a physical disability that stems from brain damage at birth. Kyle became an instant star by knocking down a 15-foot jumpshot seconds after entering the game.
It was the first time Kyle had ever played in an actual basketball game.
“At first, I looked at the basket, and then, I just shot the ball and it bounced right in,” Kyle said. “It’s a really proud achievement to play in the game and bust my shot.”
His second shot found the net for two more points.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Kyle said. “Coach (Brandon) Dye knew I wanted to play in the game. He knew I was the only one left to do it.”
Manuel Portela is Kyle’s father. He tried recording his special needs son’s amazing night, but he was cheering so loudly, he dropped his cell phone.
“We have always told him that he can accomplish anything he wants,” Manuel Portela said. “He just needs to try and he will have to try harder than most people, but he can do it.”
Coach Dye is both the school’s eighth grade basketball coach, and a special education teacher.
“He wanted to be a player on the team,” Dye said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but he accepted a role as the team manager and he kept working.”
“It was really exciting to play in the game and the rest of the guys really supported me doing this,” Kyle said. “They were all really happy. They al said, ‘Put him in the game. Put him in the game’.”
“There were a lot of tears,” Dye said. “There were as many tears as people cheering.”
All told, Kyle made four points in that game, making two out of his four jumpshots. He says it’s proof that cerebral palsy doesn’t have to be a limitation. In fact, he lets it push him to make it better.
“Being like that kid where everyone’s looking at you because you’re different, I really embrace that,” Kyle said. “When people look at me because I’m different, I just look back at them and walk away.”
And yet, he is different, since making that shot has him as the “big shot” on campus.
Southwest Middle School leaders say they’re getting calls from national media outlets about Kyle. They tell FOX 4 News Portela’s jumpshot had been retweeted over 15,000 times — all within one hour after Tuesday night’s game.