ALLEMAN, Iowa — On Friday night, the Roland-Story Norseman had the game won at rival North Polk. With a minute left in the game, North Polk head coach Nick Wilkins put in a senior who had not played all year.
Clay Warner is called the “Heart and Soul of North Polk.” No one has more enthusiasm for basketball and the team. Clay was born prematurely 18 years ago. That left him legally blind.
That didn’t stop Clay or his love for basketball. He dressed for every single varsity game his senior year, but did not get to play.
“I wanted to get him in. It was Senior Night,” said head coach Nick Wilkins. “If there’s an opportunity that presented itself, I wanted to take it advantage of it. All the players were for it, too.”
“[I] looked over and I saw Clay’s face light up as he struggled to get his warm up off,” said senior Luke McCoy. “That took about 25 seconds maybe. That’s okay though.”
With under a minute, Warner was in the game. The ball was passed to him in the right corner. He took a couple of dribbles and let the shot fly. It went right down the middle of the basket.
The crowd, the North Polk team, as well as the Roland-Story team were all cheering his shot, as the clock wound down.
“I knew the moment he went in he was going to make his first shot. That’s just the type of person Clay is,” said Cam Markert, senior point guard for the Comets.
“Everyone in the gym was more excited than he might have been about hitting that shot. He was just worried about getting back and playing defense,” said Coach Wilkins.
“We were down by like what 25, weren’t we?” said Clay. “We were down by a couple, and I’m like, lets win this ball game as a family.”
He’s legally blind, even with his glasses on, and has cerebral palsy,” said Clay’s mom, Melissa Warner. “So for him to be able to go out and do something he loves, we’re just really blessed.”
“I got in and let’s do this. This whole gym was a yelling my name,” said Clay. “Everything, both benches were jumping. The whole crowd was going crazy. It was like I was a little kid again.”
After the game, Clay’s Mom asked him how his playing time made him feel.
“He said he felt like he was part of the team doing what his teammates were doing,” said Melissa Warner.