FARGO — When No. 13 from the St. Peter, Minn., boys basketball team checked into Friday’s game against Hawley, Minn., 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 raised their hands and high-fived Mason like he was one of their teammates.
The crowd’s celebration roared through Oak Grove’s gym.
“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. “But that’s what he practices every day.”
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.
With two minutes left in the game, there were no illusions of a Hawley comeback, Stoa said. But guarding Mason to avoid being set back six more points never crossed Stoa’s mind.
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.
“You couldn’t help but smile and feel good," Keating said. "That’s what high school sports should be all about.”
‘It just brings complete joy’
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.
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 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.
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.
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, Dec. 29.
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.