AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – An inspiring story is rising from the floors of Auburn Junior High School’s basketball gym. 13-year-old Olivia Quiñones is the manager of the girl’s 7th and 8th-grade basketball team. Thursday night Olivia dressed out and started in her team’s last home game, taking her shot with the support of her teammates and coach.
“I was like Olivia; I need you to go get your uniform on. And she was like, What? I was like, yea. I need you to go get your uniform on; you are starting tonight, and she was like, coach, I am the manager, and I said I know, I love you so much and you are going to start tonight,” said Auburn Basketball Coach, LaToya Levett.
Earlier in the season, Olivia had tried out for the team. She didn’t make it. Basketball was a relatively new sport for her and Olivia loved it. She loved it so much, when Coach LaToya Levett needed a manager, she knew Olivia had the passion for filling a critical role on the team.
“She is so determined, and I love that about her. Whatever she does, she gives it 100%,” said Coach Levett.
Olivia blossomed within the basketball team. Her teammates adore her. Olivia found a community with the young ladies on and off the court.
“I get the balls and the equipment and get their jerseys. I keep the statistics,” said Olivia.
Olivia’s mom Sara Smith says making friends has been hard for her daughter.
“She is Autistic and she has trouble making friends. For her to get to be manager, I have noticed a big increase in her self-confidence. This girl has clawed her way to overcome every single obstacle, and she’s just an amazing person. I can’t say enough about the girls on her team,” said Smith.
Olivia told News 3 on Thursday night she was nervous and surprised, but ready when her coach pulled her aside and told her the game plan.
“I told her to go to the free-throw line, and your team has got you from there. Then, she did her thing. The girls were so excited for her. It was great,” said Coach Levett.
During the opening minutes of Auburn’s last home game against Phenix City’s South Girard, players from both teams unified with one goal of helping Olivia realize her dream. The players kept feeding Oliva the basketball until Olivia took the perfect shot, swished the net, and scored the first two points of the game.
“It felt like a dream. It felt like I was a part of something,” said Olivia.
Olivia’s mother and family were sitting in the stands, crying and cheering all at the same time. Smith says after the game the some of the players came over and congratulated Olivia from the South Girard team.
“Watching her do that and seeing those girls, I can’t even describe it. It just feels so good. A couple of months ago, she came to me and said, mom, it feels so good to have friends finally. I can’t thank Coach Levett enough for all that she has done. She will never know what it means to this child.” said Smith.
Coach Levett says Olivia is an honored member of the Auburn City School’s basketball family.
“Once you are a part of our team, then you are family, and we support you. Olivia fits right in, and she just made our family complete,” said Coach Levett.
Olivia’s moment came and went in a flash, but the memory will last a lifetime. Olivia says if her dream can come true, anyone’s can.
“If you work hard, you can get there,” said Olivia.
Wise words from an incredible young lady. If we work hard and love a little harder, we can get there….together.