Columbia High student finds happiness in hoops

Nate Reynolds has gotten a lot more attention while playing for the varsity basketball team.

At Columbia High School in Nampa, it's easy to get lost in the crowd.

Unless you're Nate Reynolds. Already a well-known hit in the halls, it's what he's done in a different part of the school that has gotten Nate more attention this year.

"Well, we bought him a basketball hoop when he was three," says Betty Reynolds, who can't remember when her youngest son never said no to any sport growing up.

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But basketball has always been in the background. Nate played in junior high school, then again in his sophomore year.

"I play guard," says Nate, who has Down syndrome.

After skipping last year to concentrate on the Special Olympics, Nate told his mom he was trying out for the Wildcats' varsity team.

"And I thought maybe just manager, 'cause I know how competitive high school sports can be," says Betty, remembering when Nate told her he made the team. "But the coach was like 'no, I want him on the senior varsity team and he's going to be on the roster."

But he wasn't just on the roster. For two games this year Coach Tennison Tripple put Nate in the late stages of games, getting off some shots in 30-second stints.

Then a couple weeks ago the Wildcats were losing to Rocky Mountain.

"Not losing, we got killed, it was an ugly game," says Michael Davis, the Wildcats' senior forward.

"I thought, 'What the heck, let's put Nate in and let him go," remembers Coach Tripple.

Down 30 points with two and a half minutes left, Nate took over, making his first shot, then his first steal.

"And then he goes and he does that goofy little lay up he makes and it's like, 'wow!'" says Michael.

Nate got the same reaction from the crowd as he went on a tear, dropping shot after shot, even a three-pointer.

"He made a three," says Coach Tripple. "Yeah, he can shoot threes."

By the final buzzer Nate put up 11 points.

"He was the leading scorer," says Michael. "It was awesome!"

"He was top scorer," his mom says, laughing.

And for two and half minutes the Wildcats forgot they were losing by more than two dozen.

"It's just fun to see him and how excited he gets cause you can tell he loves basketball," says Mason Loar, a senior guard on the team. "And just to see him in the games and his reactions is probably just my favorite thing. And to see the crowd's reaction is just awesome."

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Betty believes these last two months have had a huge impact on her son.

"I think it's helped him just to know he's part of a unit and that people care about him," she says.

Almost as much as it has helped his teammates.

"When you have a kid like Nate, to go in for a couple minutes, to just show you, 'Oh, we're still a family, we're still having fun, we're still playing because we want to,'" says Michael. "Then it's always easier to find the positives."

Ten days after that Rocky Mountain game Nate is still most proud of the praise passed down from his coach.

"He says, 'Yeah, yeah," Nate says.

Of course, Coach Tripple remembers it a bit differently.

"We come walking out and I put my arm around him and told him, 'good job,' and he looked up at me and said, 'thanks coach,'" recalls Coach Tripple. "And it just, it gave you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside that you know something special happened."

It was the first time he remembers Nate thanking him. But the second-year coach thinks he's the one who should be saying thanks to Nate.

"It's a humbling experience," says Coach Tripple, tearing up a bit. "And it's fun to watch the pure joy, 'cause it's pure joy for him to go out there and play, to get into it with the crowd and do his Superman pose and all that other stuff. It's awesome."