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Special School District of St. Louis County

Student Brings Crowd to Their Feet

He shoots! He scores! You can hear a three-point shot swish through the basketball hoop. It’s an exciting moment for any athlete, but for Devin Pope, a student with autism, it’s a moment that makes him, his parents, and the crowd go crazy.

Devin is in seventh grade at Bayless Junior High School in the Bayless School District and receives services from Special School District. He previously attended SSD’s Southview School, but his progress made it possible for him to transition back to his home school.

“Devin has done a great job. He was really progressing well at Southview and wasn’t having any issues,” said his mom, Jamie Pope. “We wanted to challenge him. We figured it would either work or it wouldn’t, and we would never know until we put him to the test.”

Pope said Devin was ready to go back to Bayless and always liked the school. She said, “He’s been doing great since he transitioned back.”

 “I’m happy here. I like the activities. I like my teachers,” said Devin. “I like the school and buzzer beaters,” referring to making a basket when the buzzer goes off during a game.

After developing a relationship with his advisory teacher and basketball coach at Bayless, Steven Spolijaric, Devin tried out for and made the basketball team.

“The coach’s positive and inclusive approach has carried over to the team,” said SSD area coordinator Jenny Grigsby. “The team welcomed Devin with open and loving arms and they value his skills as a player. The team even developed a signature play on the court to get Devin into his favorite shooting spot.”

Spolijaric said the school is very inclusive. “This is my fourth year at Bayless. Everyone is included. We think of it as a family," he said. “Everyone is fantastic about including everyone.”

According to Spolijaric, the players came up with a shot they call “The Banger,” which allows Devin to get into position for a three-point shot. “He likes to get into the corner and we reverse the ball and kick it back the other way.” Spolijaric said. “Defense is shifted. This allows Devin to get open. He’s close every time and it goes in more than you would think. It’s really kind of fun, and actually the crowd erupts when he makes it, and it’s pretty cool.”

Grigsby said Devin’s success wouldn’t be possible without the support of his parents. “They go to his games and practices and make sure Devin is well-prepared for whatever comes next,” she said.

Pope said Devin has always been involved in a lot of activities. “We would go to Devin’s older sister’s basketball games and we could just tell that Devin was missing something. He wanted to be cheered for like she was.”

Devin’s parents investigated Special Olympics and discovered it was a good match for Devin. He joined the Falcons Special Olympics team. “He loves it when he makes a basket,” said Pope. “He looks up in the stands to see a thumbs up, and he’s good for the game.”

While Devin’s family has enjoyed both the Special Olympics basketball program and basketball at Bayless, Devin’s dad said he got a little emotional at the last game of the season at Bayless.

“As a dad, when you first have your son, you can envision all those things like playing in baseball games, and being a basketball star and what not,” said Stephen Pope. “But now you’re seeing him do those things and actually starting a game. I’m tickled to death.”

Published March 2018

Devin Pope Devin Pope

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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