Walk into the gym during the final minutes of a Charles City girls basketball game.
No. 30 senior Rylee Hageman pops out of her chair almost immediately, clapping hands with a player as she jogs out to the court.
She takes the ball and dribbles, not very quickly, down court before she cradles the ball in her hands and takes four or five steps to angle herself in a spot where she wants to shoot.
Rylee launches the ball with two hands over her head and hits the rim. A girl from Crestwood’s basketball team catches its rebound and passes it back. She tries another and it hits the backboard before bouncing back on the floor.
“C'mon, Rylee! You’ve got it!” Charles City varsity head coach Danielle Rippentrop said.
Her next shot kisses the rim and falls, but she makes it on her fourth attempt.
Both teams clap and her teammates tap her on the back as they head down court. That’s 45-17 Crestwood.
It’s not fun losing, and both the junior varsity and varsity Charles City teams have done that a lot this season, but those final few minutes of every game seem to lighten the mood. It’s what sports are really about: bringing people together to have some fun.
And Rylee lives for those final minutes of every game.
“I like it because I get to score,” Rylee said. “I make it a lot of times.”
Rylee was born with Down syndrome, but she wanted to play basketball like her two older brothers, Nick and Caleb. She started in the seventh grade and has been playing ever since.
“I thought, 'OK, middle school, we’ll see about high school,' but actually I remember when Rylee was in middle school I would put a picture up on Facebook and she (Coach Rippentrop) would always like it or comment positively, so I thought, ‘Well maybe high school is an option,’” Rylee’s mom, Chris Hageman, said. “So, we had a conversation early and I said, ‘I don’t expect her to play but she loves being out,’ and they’ve done an excellent job.”
Rylee makes most of her baskets on the junior varsity team, two against Crestwood and another two against Osage the week before.
During the varsity game against Crestwood, Rylee made three.
“I teach special education and on the flip side I think that kids learn a lot from other kids all the time,” Chris said. “So, even kids that obviously know her from other towns, to me they are learning life lessons on how to treat people with respect.”
Rippentrop says that Rylee’s dedication measures up to the rest of her teammates.
“Everyone loves her. She comes to every single practice just like anybody else, before school,” Rippentrop said. “She’s very involved, she’s very close with them.”
Senior Payton Reams calls Rylee her “sister.” That sisterhood began back in middle school, where Reams would help Rylee get ready for games.
“We just kind of clicked,” Reams said. “And we kind of stuck with it because she kept hugging me all the time.”
Reams said that Rylee loves to sing songs from “Moana” and “Frozen.” When “Frozen” came out, Rylee insisted on being the team’s Queen Elsa, and Reams would join her in song.
Rylee’s talents span outside the basketball court. She’s also a gymnast. Her favorite tricks are handstands and cartwheels. She’s also the volleyball team manager, but basketball is the only sport she plays.
At the end of the junior varsity game, Rylee grabs the ball from a Crestwood player’s hand and goes on a fast break down court.
“I think that’s her first steal and breakaway,” Rippentrop said, clapping her hands with excitement.
Rylee stops and walks to her spot right up the middle and shoots.
“She gets to stinking excited every time and you think, 'OK, you've done this for 6 years, is it really that exciting?’” Chris said.
The ball swishes through the net.
Rylee claps her hands, and bundles her hands up in fists to run down court.
It is that exciting.