Conner Newland always dreamed of playing high school sports. That was natural. The youngest of three brothers, Newland was practically raised at baseball and basketball games. Then, when it was time for Conner to start Little League himself, his body wouldn't let him compete on an even playing field.
According to the Deseret News, when Newland first began Little League at the age of 8, he batted but rarely made it to first base, slowed by the degenerative disease that steadily robs him of his movement. While he could still walk on his own at that age, that did not last long.
Now a teen, Newland has found other ways to be involved in high school sports, and he's inspired at the same time. According to the News, after spending years as the manager for the Green River (Utah) High baseball and basketball teams, a new basketball coach arrived and wanted to get Newland more involved in the program. His solution? Appoint Newland as the new head freshman basketball coach.
"It's a big responsibility," Newland told the Deseret News. "It's harder than being a manager because you have to teach and draw up plays. A couple of times I was pacing before the games. [The motorized wheelchair] goes about 10 [mph], but I just go in circles."
The results were impressive. The school's freshman team showed steady improvement, all while Newland fulfilled a dream he harbored from the age of 10: coaching a team on his own.
Both the players who competed under Newland's watch and his mother said that the senior's performance was inspiring, for different reasons than one might expect.
"[Newland always stressed] You have other players on your team so work with them," Green River sophomore Spencer Marshall told the Deseret News that. "Help other people, not just yourself...
"If he wants something done, we can try to do it. And if we don't do it right, he just tells us, 'Don't give up. Keep trying.'"
"They don't use him as, 'Let's get motivated because of Conner; let's win this for Conner,'" Valerie Newland, Conner Newland's mother, told the News. "They don't make it special because of the condition he's in. They don't have to do that because he's such a part of them. He just motivates them."
As a result, Newland made an impact both for the basketball program and himself.
"I have learned that if you don't come serious, you can lose games," he said. "I've learned that if you dedicate yourself to something, you'll have a good outcome."