CLAYTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - At first glance it looked like any other junior varsity basketball practice, but for Mark Brown, it was anything but.
Mark was born with Down syndrome and a love for the game of basketball.
“Well I like basketball because it’s my favorite sport,” said Thousand Islands basketball player Mark Brown.
Basketball is a sport Mark wasn’t sure he would ever be able to play competitively. But one day, Mark’s mom got an idea.
“Well I contacted the A.D. At the school and I said, you know, 'Is it okay? Would it be appropriate for Mark to join the team because I didn’t know what the rules were,” said Mark’s mother, Debbie Babcock.
After the athletic director at the school made a few phone calls, Mark got the go ahead to join the team.
Everyone was on board with the idea, including the jv basketball coach Dan Byers.
“Oh I was, I was ecstatic. I’ve known his family for a while and his parents and so he’s been playing on the summer league’s with us pretty much when he came up to 9th grade,” said.
But Mark didn’t want to just sit on the sidelines, he wanted to get into the game.
Mark earned that playing time through hard work.
“My part, I like to shoot and do lay-ups,” said Mark.
“He understands the game, understands what he’s suppose to do on the court, understands the drills that we’re doing,” said Byers.
So it was time for Mark to see game action. But Coach Byers wasn’t sure how other teams would react and it didn’t take long for him to find out.
“All the schools that we’ve played against when he’s on there are very supportive, they tell their players. I’ve had even coaches take time outs, say he’s in the game, let him shoot the ball and so very supportive whether it’s our school, our players or other schools that we’re playing with they get it, too, so it’s been really cool to see,” said Byers.
Mark played in his first ever game around this time last year against Alexandria. And something no one thought would ever happen happened.
“Well, my brother passed me a basketball to shoot basket but I made it in,” said Mark.
That’s right, it was a special moment as Mark scored his 1st ever points in a game. It was made even more special by who got the assist on the basket: Mark’s brother, Jay Brown.
“Last year, his first basket before Christmas break, I passed it to him and he scored and the whole crowd went wild,” said Jay.
It was a moment in time that no one in attendance will ever forget, especially Mark’s mother.
“It’s really hard to put into words, like watching your son out there and seeing other kids that are his age and you know these are - We’re talking about teenage boys and for them to like think outside of their own lives and think about another person, I was just really touched by it,” said Debbie.
And while Mark continues to learn about the game of basketball, he is also playing the role of teacher, teaching his teammates and coaches valuable life lessons.
“We’ve always told Mark ‘You’re no different from anybody else. You can do anything anyone else can do.’ Like, Mark doesn’t even think of himself as being different. He thinks he’s just another boy on the team and I’m so proud of him for feeling that way and for the other team for treating him that way,” said Debbie.
“He’s just very happy, upgoing, positive kid and even when he’s having a bad day you know he’s still happy, cracking a smile and you know, slap you on the back and say ‘good job, coach’ or slapping one his players on the back and telling him he did a good job. So just learn that it doesn’t matter who you are, you know what. He’s got a great attitude,” said Byers.
So as most of us get ready to celebrate that one special day of the year where giving is better than receiving, every day Mark Brown gets to play basketball is Christmas to him.