LAFAYETTE — Matt Molaison’s eyes lit up as the St. Thomas More basketball team was introduced before the game.
The Cougars have a pregame ritual of lying on the court to pray before the game begins, and Molaison hustles over to lay with his fellow teammates. It’s his favorite part of the game, the part he looks forward to the most.
For some, this may just be a typical high school tradition, for Matt and the rest of the Molaison family, it’s something more.
Matt, who has Down syndrome, is a part of St. Thomas More’s Options program, which provides a modified academic inclusion program designed to meet the needs of mentally disabled students.
“The primary goal is to prepare students for the transition from high school to a life of independent living while still maintaining a level of academic achievement,” the program’s mission statement reads.
Matt has played basketball throughout his entire career at St. Thomas More, rising from the junior varsity ranks to join the varsity team during his senior season.
Kathleen Molaison, Matt’s mom, said he played some games for the junior varsity team last season, and before the season they weren’t sure if Matt would continue on the jayvee team or not.
St. Thomas More coach Danny Broussard had a simple answer for the Molaison family.
“It was (Broussard) who wanted Matt playing basketball, and then this year he’s a senior, and we asked if he would be playing jayvee or varsity,” said Matt’s dad, Bryan Molaison. “Coach told us he would be dressing out for varsity.”
Broussard has been with the St. Thomas More basketball program for 32 years, and said he can remember the two most important things that happened during his tenure.
“When we first got a band,” Broussard said. “And the second thing is our Options program. They have done more for us than we have done for them.”
Broussard said Matt comes to practice once a week to work with the team, and the players and coaches always include him in drills when they can.
“He’s honestly one of our better shooters on the team,” Broussard said. “He’s just a pleasure to be around, just has a big heart, and we love him for it.”
Matt has always had good hand-eye coordination, according to Bryan Molaison, and has been able to dribble with both hands since he was little boy.
Being with his teammates is Matt’s favorite part of playing basketball.
Broussard said the team loves having Matt around practice because of his attitude and work ethic.
“The guys have treated him so well. He went to school with a lot of these guys in elementary school, so they’ve been around him since they were kids,” Kathleen Molaison said.
St. Thomas More basketball isn’t the only sport Matt has enjoyed during his athletic career, playing in the Project Unified Baseball program put on by the Special Olympics.
While basketball remains Matt’s favorite sport, he traveled with Challenger Baseball of the Lafayette Little League to the Little League World Series in 2011.
Matt has also participated in local Special Olympics competitions, and competes in the DREAMS Foundation Bowling League.
But Matt isn’t just your typical jock.
He helps with St. Thomas More’s Campus Ministry program, works in the Cougar Closet selling STM merchandise to fellow students and the 4H Garden Club that plants seasonal vegetables on campus.
“STM does such a wonderful job with the kids in the Options program, all the kids in his class participate in something,” Kathleen said.
“They just include him, and it’s just a great bunch of kids and they do such a good job.”
STM was losing a close game to a physical Brother Martin team earlier this season, with both coaches complaining about the calls on the court.
As tensions flared in the Sunkist Shootout semifinal, Matt jogged to every huddle and high-fived his teammates.
“He really is a pleasant kid, and he’s just like everyone else on the team. He gets out there and he works hard,” Broussard said.
Matt doesn’t travel to the team’s away games, but is there every home game to help cheer on his teammates.
Broussard said Matt’s presence is a constant reminder to everyone about how precious life can be.
“I think it makes us sit back and realize how lucky we are,” Broussard said. “I think our guys appreciate the fact that this guy has been dealt a tough blow and look what he’s done, and it makes us appreciate everything in life a lot more.”