MOUNT WASHINGTON - The team clad in red jerseys huddled around Coach Eric Thompson, who gave them a pep talk and some strategic plays to take with them onto the court in just moments. With that, they broke with, “1-2-3 Cardinals!”
As his first year as coach, Thompson has taken his St. Thomas More Cardinals all the way to the Catholic Youth Organization’s eighth-grade tournaments at Guardian Angels in Mount Washington.
Their record is 27-4.
The 21-year-old Xavier sports management senior spends a lot of time on the court.
He's the student manager for the men’s Musketeer basketball team. Plus, he played for St. Thomas More when he was in grade school.
Now, he's on the sidelines, giving a unique perspective to the game.
“Bring it back! Bring it back!” he yelled at his junior high players from his motorized wheelchair.
"I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at 18 months," said Thompson. "I walked when I played basketball through the grades. I walked with like a slight limp, but I always got around. Not as quick as everyone else."
In the fourth grade, he broke his leg, putting him in the wheelchair that he rolled in, maneuvering from one side of the court to the other throughout the game’s quarters.
Regardless of his ability to walk at 9 years old, he never left the court. He kept pushing and took a different approach to basketball.
"Always keep a positive attitude with it, you know, it's not about how you can't do it, it's how what way do I need to go so I can do it," said Thompson.
"One step back can be like two steps. It's really just cherishing everything you have. Your athletic ability, just little things, nothing is given to you... everything that you have you need to work for... it's not all about the Xs and Os."
Cardinals player, Adam Neltner said it’s not just about the plays on the hardwood floor.
"He teaches a lot of us how [to have] manners, good sportsmanship."
He said his coach stays positive to encourage and guide them.
"Whenever we're down at halftime, he'll say 'Guys, you can come back, we got this, it's not hard, play your best," said Neltner, who said his coach never lets his four wheels stand in his way to coach and be a friend to the team.
The best, is exactly what the team dolled out in the gymnasium Sunday afternoon.
The buzzer sounded, ending the fourth quarter. They won 33 to 25, making their new record 28-4.
Thompson’s team will take on St. James Wyoming next Saturday at Purcell High School.
If they win, the championship will be on Sunday.