The students who might have lost their minds more than anyone else when West Point-Beemer High School senior James Meiergerd hit his now-nationally televised half-court shot were in the locker room at the time, focusing on the second half of a pivotal basketball game against a rival school. The Cadets’ assistant coach calls it their mental prep time.
As they sat in silence moments before heading out to the court for second-half warm-ups, they heard the crowd go “oohhh,” a few times, and then it roared.
“As we’re in there, all of a sudden the crowd erupts, and we’re like, ‘What the heck is going on?” assistant coach Matt Hinkel said. “I don’t know if the gym has ever been that loud before.”
They learned soon enough. Meiergerd, who has Down syndrome, had drained the backward half-court shot he’d been practicing with a friend over winter break.
“He could do it and he knew he could,” said Hinkel, also the head JV coach.
Meiergerd suits up for the Cadets’ junior varsity and has dressed for one varsity game so far. He’s played in the closing minutes of a few games this season, drawing applause from teammates and fans each time. But not like the applause Jan. 5.
That night, Meiergerd and a friend, Manny Barragan, were sitting in the student section during the game against Wisner-Pilger. At halftime, after the dance team finished performing, they got a basketball and headed to mid-court. Meiergerd missed the first few attempts, which accounted for the “oohhhs.” And then he drilled one.
There was video evidence, which students shared online in the immediate aftermath. Earlier this month, the Harlem Globetrotters, who visit Omaha on April 6, caught wind of it. They shared a video sent by Meiergerd’s mom, Karen, and invited James to be a guest of honor at the upcoming show at CenturyLink Center.
Soon after that, a producer for ABC News called West Point Public Schools with interest of sharing Meiergerd’s story during the nightly #AmericaStrong segment that concludes “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir.”
Thursday night, during a home victory against Wayne, Hinkel could see fans turning to their phones shortly after the nightly news aired. They were watching James’ segment.
“It was the talk of the crowd,” he said.
Hinkel said Meiergerd is a modest kid who’s handling his Internet-turned-prime-time fame well, and that his teammates are eating up the attention too.
They’ll all get to ride the wave a little longer.
“We’re getting a Globetrotter on Monday,” West Point principal D.J. Weddle said.
During an afternoon assembly, the school will gather to listen to a member of the Globetrotters who is scheduled to visit and congratulate Meiergerd in person.