SHEFFIELD — The parents of Dakota Reason were told their son wouldn’t live to be 5 years old.
“You can’t explain that feeling. It’s devastating,” said Brad Reason, Dakota’s father.
At 6 months, Sami and Brad Reason sensed something was amiss with their new son. Soon after, the diagnosis of cerebral palsy came from doctors. Then came the crushing news that the expectation was Dakota would likely die before most kids start school.
“At that point, I just broke down, hugged him and wanted to be alone with him,” his father said.
On Tuesday, different types of tears were shed. This was pure joy. It was watching someone who has battled for 18 years get rewarded with one simple gesture.
On senior night, Dakota, the West Fork team manager who has defied the odds, wasn’t the one helping, he was the one playing. Sporting a white No. 24 jersey, he went through warmups. He sat on the bench as West Fork raced to a big lead. He was one of the guys.
Then his chance arrived. With around three minutes left in the game, Dakota checked into game. Then he took his shot. Then another one. Then another one. Then he scored. Then he scored again. And again. And again.
He finished with eight magical points as players from each side, West Fork and Nashua-Plainfield, smiled as the ball splashed through the hoop.
When the final horn sounded, Dakota was the first one to go through the handshake line. Some players from Nashua-Plainfield hugged him. The same went for opposing coaches.
Tuesday was all about happiness. In that moment, all the challenges in the past gave way to a new memory that will last a lifetime. At the center of it was the sport he loves — basketball.
“He always has a smile on his face every day at practice, even when other people don’t,” West Fork senior Reese Halloran said.
That smile was brilliant Tuesday. When the first quarter of the girls game was over, Dakota was already holding the No. 24 jersey, eager to slip on the uniform.
Forget the final score. Forget who scored all the points. Dakota was the star. The people at West Fork say he deserved it. His family deserved it.
On Tuesday, Dakota had received a text message from head basketball coach Frank Schnoes — Dakota has reading skills but he can’t talk. The message said he would be playing on senior night.
Talk about a turnaround.
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Despite a grim outlook in his early days, Dakota slowly began proving people wrong, one day, one month, one year at a time. He started walking at 2½. He had six major surgeries before sixth grade.
Doctors said it was unlikely he would ever walk, but he would be able to talk. It’s been the opposite — Dakota can walk but is non-verbal. The braces he used on his legs growing up are a thing of the past.
His quality of life is far better than his family could have dreamed, thanks in large part to the work of the Shriner’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
The Reason family didn’t need more validation that their son found a family at West Fork. But they’ve received it in the past week.
When Dakota played in last week’s Special Olympics in Des Moines, members of the West Fork coaching staff and team were in attendance. For the record, Dakota , who also attends school in Mason City, and his team qualified for the state Special Olympics.
It was prior to Dakota’s freshman year when the family felt they needed to incorporate their son into more social settings. The idea of managing the West Fork boys basketball team was put on the table.
Like any parents, the Reasons had fears.
How would their son be received? Would this really work, incorporating a kid with special needs into a high school team?
The answer has been a resounding yes, and it chokes up Brad Reason just talking about it.
“We prayed he wouldn’t be turned away,” Reason said. “It’s been the opposite. He’s been drawn in by everybody.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed how they have taken Dakota in and treated him as one of their own as if he were a normal kid. It’s amazing.”
Added Schnoes, “It’s neat to see the different ways he can connect with kids. It’s worked out real well to get him into the social aspect of school. Being a manager was a natural fit.
“He was pretty thrilled to be a part of the program. He probably takes it more seriously, in terms of when we win or lose, than some of our kids,” Schnoes said.
Despite never saying a word, he’s conveyed a message to the team he’s loved over the years.
“It’s never give up,” said teammate Halloran. “No matter what odds are against you.”