Life is great in Greenview, Ill. Just ask Shelby Bard
The junior guard's Greenview (Ill.)
team was just eliminated in the first round of the regional tournament to end its 1-24 season. Most players would be furious, frustrated, and maybe even contemplating never playing the sport again.
"Just yesterday I hopped on my bike with my ball in one hand and took the handlebar in the other," Bard said matter-of-factly. "And I rode to the park and started shooting layups. And then I worked my way farther out until I got to my favorite spot on the court – 3-point range."
Life is simple in Greenview. The town is made up of just 800 people, with 67 of them attending the local high school. According to Greenview basketball coach Joel Washko, "Everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everything that goes on around here."
Everyone knows Bard. The junior guard is a proud member of the Bulldogs basketball team, regardless of the fact that he didn't even have to try out in order to make the squad.
"I was like, ‘You're serious?'" Bard said as he reenacted the moment he found out there were no tryouts or cuts. "It's just amazing that I get to play."
Bard has Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, the least common form of the disability. It affects a person's balance and depth perception.
"He was diagnosed at the age of 15 months and told he most likely would never walk or talk," recalled his mother, Ellen Claypool. "I decided then we needed to find a different doctor. I looked at Shelby and I knew he understood what was being said, and so I figured God and time would take care of it."
Bard walks without the usual limp that accompanies the disability — "I sway my head a little bit, but other than that I handle my CP pretty well," he said — and talks as clearly as the next person. In fact, he one day hopes to make a living with his voice.
"I've always had a good voice for announcing," said Bard, who is often asked to make the morning announcements at school. "So I have to figure out where I need to go to college and what I need to do in order to become a broadcaster. But I'll figure it out."
When Washko, a substitute teacher at the school, took the head coaching position earlier this year, he knew he'd have to figure out a way to get Bard involved on the team.
"I had to find a way to give him a place on the team that he could handle without putting much stress on his body," Washko recalled. "But I also had to make sure he knew he was part of the team."
Bard saw action in 19 of the team's 25 games, usually playing a few minutes in the fourth quarter. He had already scored on six 3-pointers heading into last Monday's first-round regional playoff game, and true to form, nailed another trey late in the game.
"When I was at the scorer's table getting ready to check in, I tried to assess what I was going to do," Bard reflected. "And I decided I was going to head to the corner and spot up for a 3."
As he knelt at the scorer's table, his mother wasn't thinking about the shot. Instead, she was deep in thought about how far her son has come.
"I just get so excited for him that he has the opportunity to go out and shine and do something that he does so well," Claypool said with pride. "I'm so proud of him. It just fills my heart."
There's no question Bard can fill it up.
"When he shoots, it's always on line," Washko said. "He can't get himself open as easily as other players can, but I've seen him stand beyond the arc in practice and hit four or five straight. If it was just standing and shooting, I'd put him up against anyone on our team."
His teammates have taken Bard under their wings and look out for him both on and off the court.
"They treat him like their brother," Washko explained. "He's just like one of the guys, and they love being around him."
And how do the Bulldogs' opponents treat Bard?
"I was really happy with how the opposing teams treated him," Washko said. "To be honest, I was kind of surprised there weren't a couple of instances when maybe the other team wouldn't treat him the way I would hope. But the teams really handled it very well."
Washko said he never tells Bard he shouldn't do something during practice, instead letting him handle the decision himself when he needs to take a break.
"He gets tired running sometimes," Washko said. "But he just takes a break and gets right back in there. I'm impressed how he comes to practice every single day ready to go. He just wants to play. He is such a positive influence for his teammates, the other students, and really, the entire community."
And he's also influenced his first-year head coach's philosophy.
"Shelby gave me a different outlook on what success really is," Washko, a former Division I baseball player, said. "Before, it was easy to label success as winning. Coaching Shelby has given me a different outlook on competition and high school sports."
Washko said he's "very excited" that Bard will be around for one more season.
Almost as excited as Bard himself.
"I just can't wait until my senior year comes around and I'll be back for more," he said. "I'm going to have to put in a lot of hard work this year to be the player on the team that can execute well and perform to the team's standards.
"It will be a great year again."Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at email@example.com.