GameChange Original: Josiah’s Magical Moment

“When Josiah was first put into the game, it was one of those times when you would see everybody bring their phones out to see maybe something special’s going to happen.” San Pedro Pirates basketball coach, John Bobich describes the moment when Josiah Walley entered his first-ever high school basketball game.

It was quite a road to get there.

Walley, who has autism, loves basketball, but because of his learning disability, many people didn’t believe he would ever be able to play. However, Walley was not one of them. Bobich explains that self-doubt is not how Walley is wired.  “Josiah definitely was one who always believed in himself and he had great support from his family. I mean, he was brought up to believe in himself.”

Although he came to the basketball tryouts with confidence, Walley was not yet skilled enough to make the team. Bobich states, “I don’t think he even made a shot in any of the three tryouts, but he was working hard.” In lieu of a spot on the playing squad, Bobich offered Walley the opportunity to be the team manager. Pleased with having the opportunity to just be part of the group, Walley accepted. Walley says, “I was totally happy…to be a team manager and help the varsity.”

Walley’s infectious positive spirit soon made him one of the most popular kids in the basketball program. All LA City basketball player, Anthony Hrboka, a senior at San Pedro High, says, “I think that Josiah definitely brought out the best in all of us. Just to see the joy in his face on the basketball court, off the basketball court really just made us better humans altogether.”

Although Walley enjoyed being the team manager, he did not give up on his dream of suiting up and getting into a game. Bobich explains, “You know, we tell the kids, ‘Look, anybody who doesn’t make the team, you could stay after and we’re going to work with you.’ So, he was the only one. He stayed after and he asked, ‘How do I shoot a ball better? How do I dribble better?’”

One of Walley’s teammates, George Rizor recalls the devotion that Walley had to making the team. “One time we had a 6:30 AM practice. It was raining in the morning, it was windy, it was crazy. He walked all the way from his house on the other side of town all the way here to get here at 6:30 and came to practice on time.” Walley simply adds, “I never give up because it’s my favorite sport.”

After months of staying after practice to get in more work the day finally arrived when Walley was told he made the team and he would be getting into a game. When Walley checked into the game he came onto the court and drifted to his favorite shooting spot in the corner. Anticipating something special, fans throughout the gym pulled out their phones to capture the moment. The ball came to Walley and he fired up a three-point attempt….BOOM!

The explosion of love in the gym when Walley made his shot can be seen in a short documentary film about him on GameChangeNation. Aside from being such a joyful young man, who everyone loves, the reaction to the shot was a nod to all of Walley’s hard work to earn the moment. Bobich says, “By not making the team, he could have easily given up, but he didn’t give up and he just worked that much harder.” Hrboka adds, “The hard work that he put in was just an inspiration to us all. And I think that Josiah’s story is something that we can all learn from.”

And what was Walley’s reaction? He smiles and states “That was happiness.”

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