by darren reese
Sitting at the end of the bench during the boys' junior varsity game at Chuckey-Doak Middle School Monday night was Noah Shepherd.
He wears number 40, and is known for his radiant smile and his endless amount of enthusiasm. Noah spent the game cheering on his teammates, while patiently waiting for his turn to get in the game.
The fourth quarter ended with Chuckey-Doak coming out on the wrong end of the score against visiting Hampton. Noah never made it into the game. He wasn't upset, but then the coaches called him up to the scorers table.
The game was over. But something special was about to happen.
The head coaches of both teams, as well as the officials, happily agreed to put two more minutes back on the clock so that Noah would get the opportunity to take the court one final time as a player for the Black Knights. One last chance at "playing time".
Noah is an eighth grader at Chuckey-Doak, and he has down syndrome.
He is in his first year as a member of the basketball program. The game marked the final home contest of the 2012-13 season for the JV Knights.
But according to Chuckey-Doak coach Josh Arrowood, the touching moment that took place at the end of regulation Monday night has been occurring all season long.
The Black Knights and their opponent retake the court after the final whistle and allow Noah to play in a game-like atmosphere. There have even been a couple of instances this year when Noah got to play in the actual junior varsity game, itself, in the final minutes.
"We've not had anybody have any reservations," Arrowood said. "Everybody has been real good about it. They are all supportive, and it's a special thing to see."
"And our players have taken to Noah well. He is one of those kids that always has a smile on his face, whether it's out here on the court or in the hallway at school."
Noah has always been a sports fan, according to his mother, Melissa Cochran. His teacher suggested to coach Arrowood the idea of Noah being a part of the team this year.
Arrowood didn't have to think twice.
"Some might be concerned about having him out here getting hurt," Arrowood said. "But with Noah, I don't have to worry about him. He does good during practice, during the games. It has been great to have him on the team."
Noah was honored as part of Chuckey-Doak's eighth grade night during the varsity contest Monday.
Both Melissa and coach Arrowood believe that being part of the team has had a positive impact on Noah.
"Oh, he loves it," Melissa said. "He likes football and other sports, but basketball is his favorite. I really appreciate the coaches and players and everybody allowing him to do this."
Arrowood added, "I've noticed just seeing him around, he seems even more happy than he was before. I think being a part of the team is something he loves."
It's moments like the one at Chuckey-Doak Middle School Monday that remind us of the positives that can come from sports. In a world where the headlines are dominated by stories of cheating superstars, there is still some good left out there.
Sometimes, it takes a "Noah" to remind us of that.
Melissa describes Noah as her "heart", but Monday night - and so many other nights this season - Noah has captured the hearts of basketball fans across the area.