It's not always the player who finishes with the most points or gets the most playing time, that makes the biggest impact on a team. Sometimes, all it takes is one valiant spirit to change the lives of every player and coach around them.
That kind of jolly soul is everything that is embodied in Hudson's Justin Forrest.
Diagnosed with autism, Forrest hasn't let that stop him from making his own unique role within the squad. Entering his second year as team manager, Forrest has left an imprint on his friends that cannot be matched. That's why the Hornets made sure that Forrest's senior night on Friday, would be one he'd never forget.
When you ask Forrest who the biggest Hudson Hornet basketball fan is, the answer is easy.
“It's me. It's me, Justin Forrest,” said Forrest.
You heard it from the man himself and it can't be denied. Forrest is everything that makes up Hornet basketball. Basketball is easily his favorite sport.
Without hesitation, head coach Rob Peterson opened his arms to Forrest as team manager. Peterson said Forrest is always the first one at the gym and the last one to leave a smile on your face.
“He puts our basketballs away or gets them out for us, he fills up water and that kind of stuff,” said Peterson. “It's kind of fun to see him because in the beginning he was very distracted doing those things and now he takes it on his own and wants to do it. It's been fun to see him develop into those roles.”
However, Forrest's role has grown to be so much more than just managing equipment. With a personality as big as his stature, he keeps the game fun.
“You see how he points up in the stands and gets everyone excited and yelling. Its fun,” said Hudson basketball player Jacob Pierce. “As he gets water back there, you can hear him talking to everybody. He gets everybody excited. He really helps us in more than just getting water and pumping everyone up.”
There's more to Forrest though than just good laughs and basketball. He's become a part of the team and has bloomed into something much bigger than the game for the Hornets.
“He makes you see the bigger picture in life. It's a game and you want to win, but you see more than that. It gets you ready for after life. That's what he does for me. He teaches me what I didn't know and that's what I love about him,” said Pierce.
“He walks into the gym and you can't help but put a smile on your face just because he’s here and you know it's going to be something funny with him or uplifting with him,” said Peterson.
“You always play for your school and you play for all your students, but he’s also one of those extra things that you play for. If someone doesn't have anything to play for, Justin’s that one thing to play for,” said Hudson basketball player Aaron Minker.
It's for those reasons and so much more, that the Hornet's got a special jersey made just for Forrest to suit up and score his first-ever bucket on senior night. It was an idea thought of by Pierce, who Forrest refers to as his ‘buddy.’
“It is my senior night, but I love this experience for him. This is once-in-a-lifetime and I’ll be able to tell my kids when I have them that I had one of my best friends go out there and scored the first two points and the gym just went ecstatic,” said Pierce.
The Hudson Hornets were set to take on Jasper for another district showdown. With a packed gymnasium, the crowd roared when Forrest’s name was called as a starter.
Minutes later, Forrest took his position right under the basket. The court had been marked in the spot he had been practicing his shot repeatedly for this moment.
A tip off and a few passes later, Pierce got the assist to Forrest’s first and only basket. An anxious crowd, who were all on their feet waiting, went wild when Forrest swished the ball through the hoop in his first attempt.
“He’s always been here. He's a part of the program. Anybody who's part of the program, you got to let them have their moment too whether it's big or small. Tonight's his moment,” said Minker.
Forest's basket will go down as one of the best to ever fall through in Hudson and it's served as a reminder not to cheapen the value of a basket by two points.
It's because of people like Forrest, baskets can be measured in Hudson as symbols of blessings, opportunity, purpose, and life.
It was a simple shot with a much more complex meaning- changing the measure of a basket.
Hudson went on to beat Jasper Friday night 65-61. Forrest might have had something to do with that as well.
Copyright 2017 KTRE. All rights reserved.