Owasso Rallies Behind Special Needs Team Manager
It all started on Super Bowl Sunday. An Owasso parent wanted to get a certain hashtag "trending" on Twitter. So who better to turn to than the captain of the football and basketball teams, Owasso High School senior point guard Jaylen Lowe. He was also the starting quarterback who signed to play football at the University of Tulsa next fall.
The desired hashtag read, "#dressNathanout." It refers to the team's manager Nathan Mitcham, a senior at Owasso High School. He's also a special needs student who hasn't played basketball anywhere recently outside the local YMCA. However, Jaylen has witnessed his classmate's abilities as a three-point shooter and understands this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I mean, I know Nathan's a senior, and this is our last year to play together and I feel like Nate should be a part of that," Lowe said.
But even with Lowe's one-thousand plus Twitter followers, he knew it would take more than that for something to trend nationally. So Lowe pleaded his case to countless celebrities with millions of followers - and several listened.
As Tulsa World sports columnist John E. Hoover notes in an article earlier this month, by having such celebrities as Kevin Durant, Carrie Underwood, Oprah, and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the message got out to millions and millions of people around the world. "I was expecting the town of Owasso to get behind this, but then all these other states, Johnny Manziel and Kevin Durant, I was just shocked," Lowe admitted.
Those far reaches of the "Twitter-Verse" were even enough to reach Mark Vancuren, the boys head basketball coach of Owasso High School. "I was at a party being held for my sister and my [cell] phone was going ballistic," explained Vancuren. "I was trying to ignore it and then finally, my daughter Riley came in and said, 'Hey dad, you need to check this out. It is going bananas.'"
From Vancuren's perspective, he was never against Nathan dressing out for a game because he wasn't made aware of the team manager's wish. "I said, 'Hey, how about just coming to ask me?" Vancuren explained. "You didn't have to go to this length, you know, for it to happen."
But it proved to be enough to get the point across to the Rams head coach - and it worked, pending Mitcham's physical. When Nathan was cleared to play Monday, Lowe quickly let it be known on Twitter. "#dressNathanout" was on for the following night, Tuesday, February 13 against Sand Springs.
The official capacity of the Owasso High School's basketball gymnasium is approximately 1,400. They eclipsed that total hours before the girls varsity game, let alone the boys game which followed that evening. At least half of the audience sported white t-shirts which read, "#dressNathanout" on the front and "#Rampride" on the back, all in a maroon colored font.
Other local businesses made donations as well. Some of the items included Mitcham's new white basketball sneakers with "#dressNathanout" written on the sides. He also had a second pair of Nike white sneakers with blue and orange trim. They're the Nike Zoom KD V shoes.
The bright orange Nike shoe box was completely covered in notes of encouragement from people in the community, including the night's opponent Sand Springs. Nathan was everyone's teammate tonight.
"Those are my second half sneakers," Nathan said through his somewhat limited speech pathology. Physically, Mitcham comes across as any other ordinary high school student in Owasso. His difficulty pronouncing certain syllables appears to be the only noticeable deficiency.
But none of that matters, not on this Tuesday evening inside the Owasso High School gymnasium. The standing-room-only crowd roared upon Nathan's entrance onto the hardwood. Before the starting lineups were announced, head coach Mark Vancuren took Nathan to the center of the court to make an announcement.
Vancuren presented Nathan Mitcham with a brand new Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, as donated by the NBA franchise. The back of the jersey had the number one and read "Mitcham." Vancuren also told everyone the Thunder invited his team to attend their game on April 7 against the New York Knicks.
The Rams head coach proceeded to present another gift, this time from an anonymous donor. It was a brand new Kobe Bryant black jersey with yellow trim, one of the L. A. Lakers alternate road uniform color schemes. Kobe is Nathan's favorite player.
After that, Nathan Mitcham spent more than three quarters of the game on the bench.
In their previous meeting, Owasso dominated Sand Springs 106-40 this season but Tuesday's game was still important. If the Rams win, they'll play Broken Arrow at the end of the week for the conference title outright.
Owasso led the entire game, but it was much closer contest than their last encounter. The Rams' lead dwindled to 16 points with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The crowd's collective anxiousness was finally vocalized within the next minute. They began chanting, "NA-THAN! NA-THAN!"
At the 3:30 mark of the fourth quarter, Owasso High School senior Nathan Mitcham made his varsity basketball debut. And it wasn't exactly a flawless performance.
After Nathan missed his second of two shot attempts, an offensive rebound by Jaylen Lowe was immediately kicked out to Mitcham on the far wing.
Nathan drove to the basket for a mid-range "runner" which banged off the backboard and through the hoop - his first-ever basket. The crowd's jubilation could no longer be restrained. Nathan followed up with another three-point shot attempt from the far corner. It swooshed through the net.
Once the final buzzer sounded, Nathan Mitcham, in his 3:30 of playing time, had collected 8 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the floor in a 75-55 win. Not only did the students proceed to storm the court, they hoisted their classmate on their shoulders as a champion of Green Country. Afterward, when asked what he'll remember the most about this night, Nathan said, "I scored 2 three-pointers."
And maybe the most memorable shots in Owasso High School history - not bad.