Valley student with special needs scores big at school's basketball game

Posted at 5:46 PM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 19:46:46-05

Fifteen-year-old Mario Ray, who has Down syndrome, honed his basketball skills in his driveway.

At Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, he plays a big role as manager for the freshman boys basketball team. 

Lesean Marks, the head basketball coach, says Ray encourages his teammates to stay positive — regardless of the game's outcome.

“I would say Mario is more like a hype man," Marks said. "He’s our motivational speaker. He’s our inspiration. When we lose, he’s the one that’s yelling at the guys to never give up.”

On Tuesday, during the last home game of the season, Marks put Mario in the game. With about a minute and a half left on the clock, it was Mario’s time to shine.

“He took three dribbles up the court up to the free throw line, very first shot, shot it, it went in. Crowd went crazy," Marks said.

And the cheers from the crowd grew louder when Mario scored a second time.

"I got so happy when all my fans were cheering me up because I feel so happy and excited. I saw my friends, my teammates and my coach," Mario said.

The team didn’t end up winning that game, but you never would’ve known by the crowd’s energy.

Mario's mother, Ale Ray, said it's an experience that he'll never forget.

"Happy tears all around — just so excited for Mario," Ray said.

“You would’ve thought we won the championship game or something. It was awesome," Marks said.