Dustin McKinney has been a loyal supporter of Westland High School athletics since his freshman year.
Born with cerebral palsy, the senior has been a part of the boys basketball and football programs as a team manager but hadn't participated in an athletic contest until Feb. 12 when the boys basketball team played Franklin Heights in its final home game of the regular season.
The idea to give McKinney an opportunity to play in a varsity game was spearheaded by athletics director Greg Burke. With assistance from coach Todd Parker and his coaching staff, Franklin Heights coach Todd Phillips and the game officials, Burke arranged the surprise.
Early in the fourth quarter, McKinney was in his customary spot on the Westland bench when junior varsity coach Zac Buchwalter led him into the locker room. McKinney emerged from the locker room and returned to the bench a few minutes later donned in a Cougars uniform, wearing No. 35.
When senior guard/forward J.J. Smith was fouled midway through the quarter, Parker instructed McKinney to enter the game in place of Smith and shoot the two free throws. McKinney missed both attempts, but the experience of playing in a varsity game is something he won't forget.
"I was nervous as heck because I've never been in a varsity game," he said. "Just to get a chance to shoot free throws in a varsity game, it's a great honor. This is a great program. I love this program. I love the coaching staff, the players, everybody around here. I love Westland."
Parker welcomed the opportunity to recognize McKinney for all that he has done for his program.
"We try to run a good, clean program," Parker said. "We try to involve everybody we can. We try to give people like Dustin kudos for what they do. Dustin is an inspiration every day to all the kids in school."
Members of the football team presented McKinney with a varsity jacket during halftime of the boys basketball team's home game against Upper Arlington on Feb. 8.
-- Frank DiRenna