HOWARD CITY — Though the Tri County Vikings boys basketball game against Fremont was all but lost, there was one person who came into the game that lifted the spirits of everyone in the gymnasium Friday.
With 2:30 minutes left in the game and the Fremont Packers up by 20, 18-year-old Andrew Houghton’s name was called by Vikings coach Josh Delameter to check into the game.
As Houghton walked onto the court, fans in the gymnasium applauded and roared as his name echoed from the announcer through the speakers.
Prior to the basketball season, Houghton, a Tri County senior with autism, had shown interest in being a part of the basketball team as its team manager and “hydration specialist.” He was quickly taken in by the team and enjoyed his new duties, spending hours upon hours with the team in practices.
“He has been an exceptional manager for the team and the coaches and players have fully embraced him,” said Cory Mead, a speech language pathologist with the school who has been working with Houghton. “I have always known that he was been a sports fanatic. Andrew and I have spent a lot of time together over the past six years discussing sports, as I’m also a fanatic.”
With Friday’s game recognizing the seniors on the team, Mead, along with the school’s athletic director, Phil Butler, and Delameter, Houghton was asked if he would like to “suit up” with the Vikings team.
“Andrew appeared hesitant at first, but after spending a couple hours over the next few days in the gym with me (after school) and talking to some staff and players, he agreed to wear the uniform and participate in warmups,” Mead said.
After warmups, prior to the game starting, Houghton was awarded Manager of the Year and was given a seat on the bench with the team to cheer on his Vikings.
When he entered the game in the fourth quarter, the Fremont players set up Houghton with an uncontested shot, which missed, but after a Packers player rebounded the ball and gave it back to Houghton, the senior Manager of the Year went up for a layup and scored, erupting the crowd in cheers once again.
Houghton then got to the free throw line and hit one out of the two free throw shots.
Houghton’s excitement had one more moment before the buzzer sounded, however.
Standing at the 3-point line, Houghton was fed the ball once more. He shot, and as the ball was in the air, the buzzer sounded, and the ball hit the backboard and went into the basket, capping off what arguably was one of Houghton’s most memorable experience as a Viking.
“That was an unbelievable night. Both Fremont and Tri County showed great sportsmanship with what they did for Andrew,” Butler said. “Every person that had the privilege to witness what happened in the gym Friday will have a great memory of a lifetime. That was what high school athletics are all about.”
His teammates, as did Fremont’s players, rushed the court to congratulate Houghton when the shot fell through and for the first time all season, every fan, player and coach were smiling with joy at the end.
Mead was proud of all who coordinated and participated in giving Houghton an incredible moment, both on the Tri County and Fremont sides.
“It was such an incredible moment for Andrew and the fans, students, coaches and players of both Tri County and Fremont,” Mead said. “Fremont’s (athletic director), basketball coach, players and their fans deserve recognition. Life is all about making memories and this was a memory that every person in that gym is going to remember the rest of their lives.”