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Player with Down syndrome delivers unforgettable moment in first varsity start

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This might be the coolest story you’ll read all day.

Jaden Barnes, a 16-year-old student at Harrah High School in Harrah, Oklahoma, got a chance to make his first start for the boys varsity basketball team — and he made the most of it.

Jaden, who has Down syndrome, is the team manager, but on Saturday night against Bethel, his number was called and he was inserted into the starting lineup.

After Jaden was introduced as a starter over the PA system, high-fiving his way through a tunnel of cheerleaders and teammates, he took the floor with the starters.


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His teammate Brock Drew grabbed the opening tip and passed it to Jaden on the left side of the key, and Jaden didn’t hesitate.

He fired a jumper that hit the bottom of the net for the first two points of the game. The home crowd erupted in cheers.

“That’s an assist I’ll never forget,” Brock, a senior who is Jaden’s best friend on the team, told The Oklahoman.

As team manager, Jaden is always with the team and participates in practices.

“Jaden eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. He is absolutely a part of our team,” Harrah coach Chad Rochelle told The Oklahoman.

Jaden had competed in a Special Olympics game earlier that day and hadn’t shot as well as he normally does, so Rochelle and the team thought this would be a great opportunity for him to redeem himself.

“He can shoot,” his mom, Stacey McConnell, told The Oklahoman. “He just loves basketball and wants to play so bad.”

Bethel coach Bryan Jennings is a former coach and physical education teacher at Harrah, and got to know Jaden as well, playing hours and hours of basketball with him.

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“Neatest kid I’ve ever been around,” Jennings told The Oklahoman. “He brings a happiness every day to everyone he comes into contact with. Whether it’s a hug or high-five, Jaden makes an impact on everybody.”

It was a special moment for everyone in the gym, particularly Jaden’s parents.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said McConnell. “But it made me feel so good to see him so loved by so many people. I’m just so glad we have this community.”

Jaden Barnes. Photo courtesy of KOTV-TV.

Jaden’s dad, Jeff Barnes, said he’s very thankful for the way the Harrah players have embraced Jaden over the past two years.

“It allowed him to the get the chance to participate with the boys he hangs out with every day and be part of a team,” Barnes told KOTV-TV in Tulsa. “It’s amazing.”

Harrah ended up winning 57-42.

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Dave is a lifelong sports fan who has been writing for The Wildcard since 2017. He has been a writer for more than 20 years for a variety of publications.
Dave has been writing about sports for The Wildcard since 2017. He's been a reporter and editor for over 20 years, covering everything from sports to financial news. In addition to writing for The Wildcard, Dave has covered mutual funds for Pensions and Investments, meetings and conventions, money market funds, personal finance, associations, and he currently covers financial regulations and the energy sector for Macallan Communications. He has won awards for both news and sports reporting.
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