FARGO — When No. 13 from the St. Peter (Minn.) boys basketball team checked into Friday’s game against Hawley with two minutes left, the fans piled into the stands and the players and coaches on both benches had no idea they were about to witness an inspirational moment.
Mason Doherty, a senior guard for the Saints who has Down syndrome, came off the bench in the final minutes of the Fargo Oak Grove Carnal Classic and scored not one, but two 3-pointers.
Mason sunk his first bucket outside the line from the corner after his teammate swung him the ball. He made it a six-point night a minute later, drilling in his second 3-pointer.
The Nuggets who were on the court at the time immediately raised their hands and high-fived Mason like he was one of their teammates.
The crowd’s celebration roared through Oak Grove’s gym, as every person in attendance was rooting for Mason, whether they were wearing maroon and gold or blue and white.
“It’s kind of hard to sit on the bench all game and then just go in there and drill two 3s regardless of the situation, so that’s pretty amazing,” said St. Peter head coach Sean Keating, a Fargo Oak Grove graduate. “But that’s what he practices everyday.”
Every once in awhile, Keating will suggest that Mason try to go in for a layup. But he wants to be outside the line.
St. Peter downed Hawley 93-55 on Friday. When the Hawley bench saw Mason about to get on the floor, Nuggets head coach Nathan Stoa looked at his kids. He didn’t say anything, but they all understood.
There were no hopes of a Hawley comeback as Mason was about to stretch the Saints’ lead by six more.
Stoa was aware of who Mason was beforehand through Keating, but the situation wasn’t a part of the Nuggets scouting report. It was unspoken between Keating and Stoa, and between Stoa and his kids until the moment Mason checked into the game.
“It was awesome with my kids because we didn't have to talk about it in any way, shape or form,” Stoa said. “It was a moment where I don't even know if I would have had to have said anything to the boys verbally or non-verbally.”
With two minutes left in the game, there were no disillusions of a Hawley comeback, Stoa said. But guarding Mason to avoid being set back six more points never crossed Stoa’s mind.
“I’m not trading a delusional effort to come back in a game like that for that moment that we all got to be a part of,” Stoa said. “And for him to do it twice was pretty sweet, too. There’s stats that are going to be in the record books, but they are all incredibly tiny compared to the moment that we all got to witness and be a part of.”
All weekend, Stoa preached “bigger than basketball” to his kids in the locker room.
“This was a great opportunity for our kids to not only be a part of a memory, but to help create and be excited in a moment for a young man who has probably had it a little bit more difficult than the average teenager,” Stoa said.
Mason’s six points capped an already exciting few days for Keating, a former player of longtime Grovers boys basketball coach Steve Carnal, whom the tournament was named after.
“The whole weekend for me was really special honoring Steve Carnal,” Keating said. “And to have something like that happen with Nathan Stoa, I think it’s one of those inspirational type moments that motivate everybody.
“You couldn’t help but smile and feel good. That’s what high school sports should be all about.”
‘These opportunities don’t happen a lot’
Mason drilled a 3-pointer earlier this month against Le Sueur-Henderson, but seeing him get on the board at Oak Grove was different for Mason’s parents, Darin and Laura. This time, all the hooting and hollering was from strangers, people who had never met their son, a high school senior from St. Peter.
“Hawley has an opportunity for some healthy competition and yet they rally around a complete stranger just because they realize that these opportunities don't present themselves a lot,” Darin said. “The reality is, these opportunities don’t happen a lot. So when they happen, it just brings everybody so much confidence in the world and enthusiasm.”
With moments like this that can be few and far between for Mason and many individuals who have disabilities, seeing their son included in a sport that brings people together is pure happiness for Darin and Laura.
“Since people with disabilities get marginalized a lot in our society, him doing that and then everybody cheering it on and putting themselves second and kind of putting Mason first, it just brings complete joy,” Darin said. “There’s been many times where it makes my wife and I cry on the sidelines, because your heart just explodes with joy.”
In the nine years Mason has played basketball, the Dohertys have dealt with some people in the past who have said Mason would fit better into a manager role.
That was never the case with the Saints.
There was never a question of whether Mason would make the varsity squad for the first time as a senior this year. The group of kids in Mason’s senior class whom he’s grown up with told their coach that they wanted to save a spot for Mason.
Darin gives a lot of kudos to Mason's teammates, who have consistently said, “Nope. Mason is on varsity. He’s our teammate.”
Playing basketball since fourth grade, there have been some years where Mason has had little to no playing time because the opportunity never came up. On some of those occasions, he would come home and tell his parents he was the only one that didn’t get on the court.
“That's been a little bit of a challenge to kind of walk him through that,” Darin said. “And sometimes we didn’t have an answer for him.”
At the start of this season, Keating had a meeting with all of the players in the Saints program and their parents, where he asked each parent to fill out a questionnaire. Darin was honest with his feedback.
“When Keating said at the beginning of the year, ‘What we’re focusing on here is developing men, trying to develop contributing men to society,’ I put in the questionnaire, ‘This is your opportunity to practice what you preach by having somebody with a disability on the team,’” Darin said.
And he has, Darin said.
Stoa’s eighth-grade son had his first taste of varsity action during the tournament, but an image captured of his son fist-bumping Mason after his 3-pointer is the picture he’ll always have in the back of his mind.
“It was something I won’t ever forget. A lot of things happened that game, but nothing more important than what Mason was able to do for himself, his family, their community just to show that togetherness,” Stoa said.
Videos and images of Mason’s two 3-pointers have already garnered heavy traffic on social media. Local radio broadcaster Kevin Kochmann, from KRJB radio in Ada, Minn., shared a video of Mason scoring and the ensuing eruption of cheers that has been “liked” nearly 500 times on Twitter as of Sunday night.
Darin has admittedly watched the announcer’s video about 100 times.
“It’s just humbling. It just makes you so proud and happy that people are celebrating and taking a moment to look at something like that,” Darin said.