Michael Menges is 15
years old. He likes playing basketball and making paper airplanes with his friends. He has a younger brother, Brian, who is his best friend. And, Michael has Down syndrome.
While that may make some people think differently about Michael, it hasn’t stopped him from making national news for scoring the shot of his lifetime in the Junior Eagle Classic, Evergreen Lutheran High School’s big grade school tournament for students from Lutheran schools in Washington and Oregon.
The Menges had plans to move to Oregon in December. However, Brian pleaded with his parents to stay until after the tournament. Although Michael attends a different school than his brother, Parkland Lutheran has named him an honorary captain, asks him sit on the bench during games and occasionally gives him a little time on the floor.
Parkland’s game against Bethany Lutheran of Port Orchard was one of those occasions.
“It wasn’t a charity case,” Parkland’s head coach Bryon Parker said. “He earned his minutes on the floor by doing exactly what we asked of him.”
Before the game, Parker went to Bethany Lutheran’s coach, Chris Denney, to tell him the situation of the family moving and asked if it was okay if Michael played. He told Denney to play him like a normal player, but if the score wasn’t a factor, he would really like to see Michael make a shot.
With the game nearing the final buzzer, Parkland started making a concerted effort to feed Michael the ball. He attempted several close shots, but none seemed to be going his way.
With a few minutes left, Denney called a timeout to ask the scorer’s table to stop the clock with one minute left, assuring Michael would have time to put a basket in. He then told his players that if they got a rebound, they were to feed Michael the ball.
And that’s exactly what they did. Shot after shot, both teams continued to pass the ball to Michael. Eventually, on his sixth attempt, Bethany Lutheran’s high scorer Ethan Hoefler assisted with the shot that went in.
“It was very special,” Brian and Michael’s mom Nancy said. “One boy on Michael’s team hugged him, and they were all high-fiving, both teams. It was pretty neat.”
Neither Nancy or the young players involved ever imagined the story would reach as far as it has. What originally aired on KIRO 7, KOMO 4 and KING 5 in Seattle, soon spread to Arizona and Chicago after the video received more than 30,000 views online. A reporter from ABC in New York even called the Menges’ household to learn about the boy who made the basket.
“It could not have happened if these kids did not have the spirit they have,” Nancy said.
“The love and kindness they have toward a child with disabilities, they need to be recognized for their part in this. It just really makes the heart feel good.”
And how does Michael feel about all of this attention?
“He’s pretty oblivious,” Nancy said as she laughed. “He knows he’s in a video and he’s loved watching it over and over again. Especially because he’s in it with Brian.”
Even after the game as he was being congratulated, Michael was more interested in making paper airplanes with the younger kids in the hallway.
Hoefler, the boy who assisted Michael even though his team lost, expressed a similar sentiment. When interviewed about his assist, he simply asked “Why is this such a big deal? We just passed a kid the ball.”
For mom, that was the most special of all.
“I love that these kids see a simple act of love and compassion as part of daily life. That’s pretty special.”