Jerrame Dockery blew his whistle signaling the end of the dribbling drill, and the basketballs stopped thumping against the hardwood.
Except for the one in the hands of the girl with the blue shorts.
“Stop,” Dockery said.
He blew his whistle again.
“Stop,” he said again.
When she finally did, there was no dirty look, no reprimand. In fact, the man known as Coach Jerry smiled.
Good vibes abounded during the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma’s inaugural basketball camp. It is only for kids born with the genetic condition. It is a chance for them to run and play and learn and be like other kids.
And it is every bit as special as you might imagine.
The same can be said of Coach Jerry.
He is a junior high basketball coach who could be enjoying the final weeks of summer break. He is a young coach who could be finding the next rung to climb. But Saturday, in a fitness center gym on the Chesapeake Energy campus that requires a sherpa guide to find, he will be trying to teach 13 kiddos with Down syndrome the proper technique for throwing a chest pass.
Coach Jerry wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I had kids hugging me every morning, just excited to be there,” he said.
The kids aren’t the only ones who are excited.
Coach Jerry played football, basketball and baseball at Norman North, graduating in 2006, but basketball was always his passion. He planned to play at Rose State until the junior college dropped its program.
That didn’t deter him.
He grew up in a single-parent home, the youngest of three kids. Not having a father in your life can have lots of consequences, but in Coach Jerry’s case, it motivated him to try to fill that role-model void for others. Be an encourager. Be a nurturer. Be the father figure he never had.
And then when he played for Jeff Blough at Norman North, he felt like he was being called to do those things as a coach.
“He pushed me to be a better person,” Coach Jerry said of Blough. “Just seeing ... how much love he has for the game and how much he taught me, I thought I could at least give it back in that same way.”
So when Moore High School called three years ago with a chance to be a basketball assistant, Coach Jerry jumped at the chance.
Then two years ago, the district had a teacher’s assistant position open at Wayland Bonds Elementary. The job consisted of monitoring and assisting special needs students. He had never worked with special needs kids, but he wanted to stay in the district and this seemed a good way to put down roots.
“It was definitely something that I kind of fell into,” he said. “You have to have the patience and the mentality to deal with a lot of things.”
It was a perfect fit for Coach Jerry.
“I do believe it was a calling for me to do it,” he said. “It’s definitely something I could see myself doing the next 20 or 30 years.”
Despite all of that, Coach Jerry was a bit hesitant when a friend of a friend approached him with the idea for a basketball camp. Stacy Lanier has a son with Down syndrome, and while the boy had gone to lots of basketball camps, he was almost always the only special needs camper there.
What if there was a basketball camp just for kids with Down syndrome?
He might feel more part of the group, learn more and feel more confident. He might have even more fun playing a sport he already loves.
Coach Jerry loved the idea of the camp, but he wasn’t sure he was the one to lead it.
“It’s one thing coaching high school boys ... and coaching kids with special needs,” he said. “I was scared of the unknown.”
He talked with his wife about it and prayed about it and after several months finally decided he’d give it a go.
He’s so glad he did.
“He’s been great,” said Robert Powell, president of the local Down syndrome association. “When you’ve got a great heart, it’s easy to modify things.”
Coach Jerry seemed to be right in his element Friday morning.
With the campers lined up on each side of the free-throw lane, he told them to dribble with their right hand for 10 seconds, then with their left, then back and forth. All the while, he was hollering encouragement above the din of the bouncing basketballs.
“Good job, Will!”
Things have gone so well that Coach Jerry, now the eighth grade boys basketball coach at Highland East, uses phrases like “five to 10 years down the road” and words like “we” when talking about the camp.
“This is an idea that we think could take off running,” he said.
He hopes this can become be a camp that draws kids from all over the state and region. He hopes what is being done in Oklahoma City can become the model for other cities.
And as much as anything, Coach Jerry hopes he can always be a part.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma
For more information about the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, including details about the DSACO Festival & 5K on Sept. 20, go to www.dsaco.org.