Josh Ross, a member of the Thornton Academy Unified basketball team, trains trick shots and long-distance shots for “hours” at the school’s Linnell Gymnasium. Derek Davis / staff photographer
SACO – Josh Ross deliberately dribbled the ball to the half and then turned his back on the basket.
On the Thornton Academy bench, teammate Mac Lowe shouted at Ross, “The other way. The other way.”
Then, Lowe said, “Josh looked at me as if to say, ‘I have this.’”
Ross, a junior in the Thornton Academy Unified basketball team, mixed his feet a bit, sat down and then threw the ball over his head, backwards, a long arc shot that swept through the net, which led to a lively celebration at Linnell Gymnasium and makes Ross a star in social media.
A video of his shot, which came in a 58-58 draw with Sanford’s Unified team on March 8, appeared on Twitter a few days later and has been viewed nearly 9,800 times. Many call it this year’s shot, the highlight of the high school season.
“It was incredible,” said Mike Cook, a Saco resident who posted the video on Twitter. “I mean, it’s the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. And what made it even more special was that it was done in a Unified game.”
Those who know Josh Ross are not surprised that he made the shot. He practices it, and other long-range shots, endlessly.
“That’s who Josh is,” said Kristin Smythe, special educator and Unified coach at Thornton, who has Ross in the classroom and on the court. “If you tell him he can not do anything, he will show you. Academics or sports, he will make it happen. He will do it.”
Kristin Smythe is a special educator and Unified coach at Thornton Academy who has Josh Ross both in the classroom and on the court. “If you tell him he can not do anything, he will show you. Academics or sports, he will make it happen. He will do it.” Derek Davis / staff photographer
Ross, 16, was born with Down syndrome. Smythe called him “a helper” in the classroom and always helped her with whatever she did. Lowe called him a “good kid, always nice to everyone.”
And he loves to play basketball. He said he spends “hours” practicing his shots. And it shows. He likes to shoot behind the 3-point arc, and when he is hot he does not miss often.
He joined Thornton Academy from Scarborough High two years ago and joined the Unified team this year at the suggestion of Smythe, who shares coaching duties with Tricia Heidelbaugh.
“I know the impact Unified has had on students in my classroom and students across campus,” Smythe said. “I just knew it would be good for Josh. And he was ready to go.”
The Maine Principal’s Association began offering Unified basketball at Maine high schools in 2015. The sport pairs students with developmental disabilities with students without developmental disabilities, so-called partners. Sport promotes the values of sport, such as physical activity, teamwork and sportsmanship, as well as social participation. Seventeen schools participated in the first year; this year, 62 schools sponsored Unified basketball teams.
Lowe, a junior forward on Thornton’s boys basketball team, joins Ross on the Unified team. He joined Unified basketball as a beginner at the urging of his older brother.
“I like it because it gives students an opportunity they would not otherwise have, like Josh,” Lowe said. “He gets to come after school and have fun and meet new friends. And that’s especially when they light up after making a basket. ”
Mac Lowe, left, and Josh Ross are teammates on the Thornton Academy Unified basketball team. After Ross made a half-back, back-to-the-basket, overhead shot during a game on March 8, Lowe says Ross “smile was the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.” Derek Davis / staff photographer
Som Josh Ross. When asked what time of day is his favorite, he said that is when he gets to play basketball.
Thornton only had two Unified games this year due to lack of players. But the shot by Ross, which came at the end of the first half, created a lifelong memory, not only for himself, but for everyone who was there.
Cook participated in the game with his wife, Angela, an oath tech at Thornton Academy. They started going to Unified basketball games when their daughter, Lexi, served as a partner in the team and has not stopped even though she has graduated. A friend sent the video to Angela Cook and she passed it on to Mike.
“I saw him do that shot in the warm-up and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, it would be great if he did that in the game,’” Mike Cook said. “And then, when I watched it after he shot it, I thought, “it will go in.” It was good.”
“It was remarkable,” Lowe said.
In the video, you hear the audience’s reaction and see people in the background jumping for joy. Ross, however, turned to his bench and stroked only against them, as if it were nothing special.
But when he got to the bench, his teammates bullied him. Then the Sanford team came and bullied him too.
“Seeing the look on his face, it was a smile I had never seen before,” Smythe said. “He was just reverence for everyone’s support, his teammates, the other team. And the crowd. It was incredible.”
“I’m so happy and proud of him,” Lowe said. “I’ve never seen him so happy. I’ve never seen anyone so happy. His smile just lit up the room. Once he got to the bench, his arms went up and he gave high-fives to everyone.… And his smile was it biggest smile I’ve ever seen. ”
For Ross, there was a reason to smile.
“I made a basket,” he said.
One that will never be forgotten.
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