Fans in the student Dog Pound section in Bill Swenson Gymnasium had chanted “put Aaron in” for four minutes Friday as the clock wound down on the Bulldogs’ last game of the season against Bear Creek High School.
McCallister, 17, who is autistic, is the varsity basketball team’s manager, and in the final seconds of the game, he fulfilled a wish two years in the making.
“I was more excited than I have ever been when they were cheering for me,” McCallister said. “When I heard my name being chanted, my teammates were kind of like, ‘We got to let him in.’ I was kind of excited and happy at the same time to hear my name.”
A long inbound pass to McCallister was broken up by a Bear Creek player as the final seconds ticked off to end the game in a 64-56 Tracy loss.
Teammates hugged McCallister as he walked off the court after his brief playing career.
Tracy High varsity basketball head coach Junior Cueva said McCallister was very much a part of the team.
“Aaron can play — he is a pretty good basketball player. Even with the fact that he has a disability, he is in the top 20 people that tried out for the team at Tracy High,” Cueva said.
McCallister had tried for two years to make the varsity squad, and though he didn’t make the cut on the court, he became the team’s manager for his senior year.
Cueva said McCallister was at every practice and home game, helping get basketballs and equipment ready for team. During practices, McCallister would step in to play defense or offense as needed.
“The team loved him. He brings a lot of energy — he is 110 miles per hour,” Cueva said.
McCallister said that after a home game against Chavez High School a few weeks ago, Cueva told him he could dress in uniform and be introduced with the rest of his team for Senior Night, the final game of the season. The coach said the Bulldogs were still in the hunt for a playoff berth and he couldn’t promise McCallister he would get any playing time.
Cueva said it wasn’t until he heard the chants of the crowd during the game that he started to think about putting McCallister in.
With a minute and half left in the game, Bear Creek began to pull away. When senior Devin Foster fouled out with a few seconds left in the game, Foster asked his coach to put McCallister in.
“You don’t get many chances to do that — he was excited just checking in,” Cueva said.
Cueva said the team had set up a play to try to get McCallister the ball.
“It was very cool to be on the court,” McCallister said. “I wasn’t upset I didn’t get the pass. I was still excited I got to play.”
McCallister has played basketball for several years, starting with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy Challenger Basketball League and moving up to the club’s recreation league.
Robert Pane, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy, is an assistant coach for the Tracy High varsity team and said McCallister always had a smile at practice.
“You could always count on him to be there at practice,” Pane said. “He was a pleasure to be around and always made friendships with all the team members.”
Pane said McCallister, who is a junior staff member at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy McKinley School unit, has been named the local clubs’ high school Youth of the Year and will represent Tracy in a Northern California competition.
Looking back at his brief time on the court, McCallister said it was a highlight he wouldn’t forget.
“I think the experience was the best thing in my life,” McCallister said. “I will really remember this for the rest of my life.”
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.