When the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa. at Kalé Crimson Bears won the Class 4A boys basketball state championship in 2016, they had a secret weapon on their bench — student manager David Timothy.
Since 2015, Timothy, who has Down syndrome, has supported the team as a manager, a student assistant and an adviser. Next season, he will serve as an assistant coach.
“We are extremely lucky to have him in our program,” said coach Robert Casperson. “He was the piece we were missing. His first year with us, we won the state championship. The guys on the team love David.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Basketball is my life. It’s in my heart. My team is my family,” Timothy said during a recent visit to the Empire.
Finding his people
In 2015, Timothy was a shy student at the school, often going through the day without much peer interaction, according to his father, Gary Timothy.
A teacher suggested he start working with the basketball team to practice social skills and find a peer group. The suggestion proved to be a good one. David Timothy very quickly connected with the game and the team.
“He became a rock star,” Casperson said. “All the guys on the team ate lunch with him and gave him high fives in the hall.”
Gary Timothy noticed the change.
“David was always shy, quiet, and reserved. During the season, you could see him open up more and more. It’s been fantastic,” Gary Timothy said.
Since that first season, David Timothy has continued to work with the team. According to his father, he continues to grow through his experiences.
“You think it can’t get better, and then the team rises to the occasion,” he said, adding that team members and coaches always include David.
“They get David out on the court and let him help take the net down. The coaches let him give a pre-game pep talk. The way they include David is amazing,” Gary Timothy said.
Casperson said the players are learning a lot from David Timothy, too.
“It’s awesome and powerful to be a part of this. I hope the players take away that kindness and compassion matter,” Casperson said.
The road to coach
Timothy’s road to coaching was paved with a variety of basketball experiences, including passing the National Federation of High Schools’ basketball coaching class, which the state of Alaska requires for coaches in the state.
The certification includes an online test, which Casperson initially feared may stand in Timothy’s way.
But, after Timothy shared that he was interested in coaching, Casperson said he started to see the test as an opportunity rather than a barrier.
“He didn’t even bat an eye. He set his own goal and worked to achieve it,” Casperson said, adding that Timothy’s father was supportive of the plan and helped along the way.
“The test covered shooting, running, and catching,” David Timothy said, adding that Coach Casperson served as a study buddy through the process.
With the certification in hand, David Timothy is ready to tackle another season with new responsibilities.
“I passed a test, and I want to coach,” David Timothy said. “I do love it. I’m really happy when I’m coaching. I love being a coach.”
Gary Timothy is also looking forward to the future and thankful for how the experiences with the team have touched David’s life.
“It brings tears to my eyes when I see David at the airport with an arm around a team member. This is what inclusion is all about,” he said, his voice full of emotion. “I think David is an ambassador for people with Down Syndrome.”