Born for Basketball
North Central Basketball Team Manager Provides Positivity, Perspective & Plenty of School Spirit
Basketball is all about passing, dribbling, shooting, scoring, screaming, and ample energy. That’s precisely why North Central High School student Pete Steinkamp loves the game. He’s been drawn to the sport ever since he was four years old. Being born with Down syndrome hasn’t slowed him down one bit. In fact, he relishes the fast-paced game.
“I love that basketball is quick and fast,” Pete says. “I also love making three-point shots.”
And he can sink them, too – time and again. He’s had lots of practice because he’s played in a Special Olympics unified league since he was 8, as well as through the Catholic Youth Organization at his church, Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Three years ago Pete, who is now 18 years old, approached Doug Mitchell, North Central’s head varsity basketball coach at the time, to ask if he could become the team manager. The two discussed the responsibilities that went along with the job, which include filling water bottles, dispensing towels and participating in every practice. Pete enthusiastically agreed to the conditions, and Mitchell welcomed him aboard. Brian Hahn, who took over for Mitchell last year, has the privilege of working with Pete.
“Pete has been fantastic,” Hahn says. “He’s so full of positive energy, and that has definitely had an impact on the team and myself.”
The players enjoy having Pete around. They talk trash, eat lunch together, and bump knuckles with him when passing in the school hallways. Pete looks forward to game-day Fridays when he gets to don the same sweatsuit and shoes that his teammates are wearing.
“When they all wear their sweatsuits, everyone at school knows he’s a part of the team, which makes him feel good,” Pete’s mother Martha says.
At the start of every home game, Pete goes out onto the court and is part of the players’ circle.
According to Hahn, Pete serves as daily inspiration for his North Central Basketball teammates because they know how much he loves basketball – yet they recognize that he can’t play the game at their level, even though he’d give anything to be able to do so.
“It provides humility to our kids and appreciation that they get the opportunity to play and compete,” Hahn says. “More than anything, Pete has taught them to take every day and every practice, and enjoy it. So if you win, you enjoy it. If you lose, you come back the next day and you still enjoy it. That consistency of trying to enjoy each experience is something that Pete really brings to this program.”
The perspective that Pete provides is truly transformative for all involved.
“Pete opens his teammates’ eyes to the fact that they are lucky to have the health and capability to play basketball,” Hahn says. “So maybe they try that much harder because Pete wants to win. He gets so excited when we win.”
Pete, who has three brothers, Ted, Joe and Jack, enjoys riding the bus to away games, riding the bus home when the team is victorious, and dressing up in nice pants and a sport coat when his teammates are instructed to do the same. His all-time favorite aspect of being team manager, however, is shooting around with his buddies.
“He tries to beat the guys by throwing the ball between their legs and racing to get the layup,” Martha says.
Pete’s all-time favorite NBA player is LeBron James, but when it comes to his North Central teammates, he doesn’t play favorites.
“I root for everybody,” says Pete, who enjoys studying science, math and history.
When he’s not in the classroom or on the court, Pete enjoys playing NBA 2K18 on Xbox with his friends and neighbors. He also likes to work with his father, Brian, and go out to dinner with his family.
The girls basketball team also appreciates Pete’s positive energy, and often invite him to attend their games. During one girls game he was invited to attempt a half-court shot.
“The players said he’d sink the ball for sure, and he did,” Martha says. “It was a very exciting moment.”
When Pete was the team manager for Mitchell, the two shared a fun tradition in the locker room anytime the North Central basketball team got a win. They did a victory dance.
“We are so appreciative of Coach Mitchell, Coach Hahn, Principal (Evans) Branigan, and Paul Loggan, the school’s athletic director,” Martha says. “(Loggan) is a big advocate for Pete being a part of the team. And he’s just a great athletic director. He makes it to nearly every game for every sport.”
Pete’s parents are thankful to the staff at North Central High School for providing such a welcoming and accommodating atmosphere for their son.
“Thanks to the staff and the students at North Central, Pete loves to go to school,” Martha says. “Everyone here is so open-minded as far as embracing kids with special needs, and for that we are so grateful.”