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'We want Lainy!': Crowd gets its wish, and special-needs senior sinks the shot

"This is something more than basketball ... it's fulfilling a dream."
/ Source: TODAY

February 3 was a big night in Norman, Oklahoma. The Norman High School Lady Tigers basketball team was facing its rival, the Timberwolves of Norman North. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers had a comfortable lead of 57-35 — for all intents and purposes, they had won the game.

But when the coaches sent in one player who had sat on the sidelines all night, everyone in the arena shared a victory.

That player was Lainy Fredrickson — a special-needs senior whose epic basket at the game's close had the crowd (and the internet) going wild. Detrick Watts, a special education TA and assistant girls’ basketball coach, told TODAY that having Fredrickson on the team is “a blessing.”

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“She always puts a smile on everybody’s face,” he said. “You know your day is going to be better just from coming into contact with her.”

Fredrickson had a brain tumor that left lasting developmental challenges. She remains a positive presence in the Norman community.Detrick Watts

Watts explained that while Fredrickson is a senior, this is her first year playing for the Lady Tigers — a decision that he, head coach Mike Neal and other assistant coaches made after seeing how much she loved competing in the school’s Special Olympics. “She asked (Neal) jokingly if she could be on the team, not knowing he would say yes,” said Watts.

“The team chemistry is something amazing,” he continued. “The girls really took Lainy in with open arms. They talk to her in the halls, they eat lunch with her … when we’re not doing drills, they come over and give her pointers.”

“The team chemistry is something amazing," said Watts.Detrick Watts

As seen in the video, Fredrickson’s specialty is a backboard shot from the middle, which she often works on during practice. She attends home games with the team, and while she understands that she won’t get to play if the score is too close, she’s been itching for her big moment. She played in one game earlier this season, but wasn’t able to sink the shot — so this time, victory was extra sweet.

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“As coaches, you try not to show your emotions, especially during the game,” said Watts. “But the reality sets in that this is something more than basketball … it’s fulfilling a dream. For the coaches, and I think for the players, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

It made a similar impression on Michael Vanderburg, the alum who took the video. "It is a testimony to the awesome community of Norman, Oklahoma, and my alma mater Norman High School, and how there is still hope for humanity out here in this world," he told TODAY. "If we just focus on the good instead of the bad, we could come together and really make a difference."