When Grade 12 student Thomas Odo got an opportunity to suit up and play in New Waterford's Coal Bowl tournament, he made the most of it.
Odo has cerebral palsy and has a passion for sports. He plays for the Breton Education Centre's junior varsity basketball team, and was asked to serve as team manager of the varsity team during the Coal Bowl, the annual national tournament held in Cape Breton.
Odo, 17, said he has been going to Coal Bowl games since he was in elementary school. He said he was surprised when the varsity coach, Jean Guy Demeter, asked him to pull on his number 11 jersey on Wednesday.
Demeter told him to be ready for action before the Breton Bears played the Elwood Regional High Lakers from Deer Lake, NL.
That chance came in the fourth quarter when Demeter gave him the sign to sub in for one of his teammates.
"I certainly didn't expect him to put me in the game," said Odo. "I just wanted to be in uniform and be part of the team."
As a Coal Bowl watcher, Odo said he has heard some loud cheering over the years. But he says he heard something really special when the third shot he put up went through the hoop.
'Heart as big as this gymnasium'
"Probably the loudest I ever heard that crowd," he said. "It was probably the best experience of my life."
Coach Demeter has known Odo since the beginning of the year, when he noticed that Odo never missed an opportunity to be on the court whenever open gym time was available at Breton Education Centre.
"I was blown away by how hard he works," Demeter said.
The coach noted how the young shooting guard ignores his limitations due to cerebral palsy and plays with a "heart as big as this gymnasium."
Demeter says he's inspired by Odo's determination and is thrilled by the attention the student is receiving for his action on the court.
"He deserves it — he earned it."