“We want David! We want David! We want David!” That’s all Rhinelander boy’s basketball head coach, Derek Lemmens, heard as the minutes ticked away at last week's win over Tomahawk. With just over a minute left to play, former team manager and new teammate David Pokrandt, who suffers from a cognitive disability, stepped in to hit the biggest shot of a game that was already locked up by a 20-point lead.
“I just want to tell them thank you for letting me be on the team," Pokrandt told WAOW referring to his coach, teammates, and the Tomahawk basketball team who kindly obliged with Rhinelander’s request to get Pokrandt in the game.
As a senior at Rhinelander High School, David has served as team manager for the past three years, but all of that changed before the team’s game last Thursday. David walked into the locker room thinking he would spend another game on the sidelines cheering his team on. Then, his teammates unveiled a No. 32 jersey and informed him that he would be joining them on the court that night.
David’s first reaction? Pure shock. His second reaction? “I have to go tell my mom!” David’s excitement carried over to his teammates for what would end in a 55-32 win for Rhinelander. But David still waited patiently for three and half quarters before he got his chance. Then, with just under a minute and 10 seconds on the clock, David checked in much to the delight of the crowd.
Following a Tomahawk turnover, Rhinelander headed down the court with David leading the charge. His first shot sailed just over the rim for an air ball he was expecting. His second shot rattled off the rim into one of David’s teammate’s hands. His third shot from just beyond the three-point line hit its mark, and judging by David peddling back on defense, he knew it was good as soon as he released it.
Coaches, players, and fans of both teams filled Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium with cheers and applause. David pumped his fist in excitement and got ready for the next play. After Rhinelander gained control of possession and took to ball down the court to secure a victory, David shook the hand of his defender and hugged each of his teammates on the court. Wins and losses meant nothing at that point. Just a moment no one in attendance will ever forget.
"David has been our manager for the last three years," Lemmens told The Northwoods River News. "We love having him be a part of the team. He's always been a great supporter and we thought it would be fitting that he get an opportunity to put that uniform on and he's earned it. With us being able to get a lead and get him out there, we just wanted to get him on the court, but Tomahawk just went out of their way to make it even more special. It just goes to show the kind of class act they are as a program and it's something he'll never forget."