SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (KCAU) — Dylan Arens is similar to many high school seniors. She enjoys giving high-fives, having fun, and the game of basketball.

The South Sioux City special needs student has been a member of the Cardinals program throughout her time in elementary school, making her way all the way up to the high school level.

This season, Arens has been playing in the last few minutes of the junior varsity games. But with senior night around the corner, her Cardinals teammates and head coach Steve Selk wanted to do something memorable for Arens and they felt it was a no-brainer, letting her start on varsity for the senior game.

“It has always been in the back of my head because I grew up in a coaching family. I’ve been coaching a while and every team that I’ve been a part of, the seniors have always started on senior day and Dylan being a senior, we’ve got to figure out a way to make this happen. So, some of us coaches had been talking about it. But then, some of the girls on the team were also like ‘hey, we’ve got to get this figured out so she can do it’, South Sioux City head coach Steve Selk said.

After receiving permission from the Nebraska Schools Activities Association, the stage was set for Dylan to suit up with her South Sioux City varsity teammates for the first time. Coach Selk passed the news on to Dylan’s parents, who ended up sharing the exciting news with their daughter.  

“When we told her, I think just that basketball has meant so much to her, that right away she was like ‘I get to be on varsity?’ Then, she looks at her sister and says ‘did you hear that? I get to be on varsity!’ We were like, whoa, just for this game. So, it was pretty cute. It means a lot to her and then just enjoying the moment,” Alyssa Arens said. 

Basketball has always been an important part of Dylan’s life, as her years of playing has helped her create connections with her peers both at South Sioux City and through The Miracle League of Sioux City. The players on the Cardinals roster have not only accepted Dylan for who she is, but have embraced her presence on the team while supporting Dylan throughout the years.

“Everybody loves her. She brings so much light to the team. Especially when she makes baskets, she gets so excited and gets everyone all hyped and excited. We’re really proud of her,” Cardinals senior Charlotte Coleman added. 

“It’s awesome. Just like the kindness that they show her. The inclusion is just amazing because it’s nothing that we can teach. We’ve spent lots on therapy and tried different therapies, but what she gets out of being included as a teammate…it just lights up her eyes and it gives her confidence. It’s really neat to see,” Dylan’s mother emphasized. 

Selk and the South Sioux City girls have included Dylan in varsity practices, giving her an opportunity to enjoy the sport she loves with her friends as the Cardinals even go the extra step to ensure that Dylan gets a chance.

“I’ve seen them tie her shoes. I’ve seen them get lined up for a free throw. They’ll go over and we’ll go extra in a couple of drills. We might have a ten minute period of scrimmage, but we’ll two minutes at the end of it so Dylan can get up and down and they don’t care one bit that they’re out there a little bit extra. They’re going to do whatever they can for her,” Selk noted. 

Dylan’s hard work and dreams of starting for South Sioux City’s varsity team became a reality on Saturday, February 4th. Dylan hit the hardwood with her parents for the pregame senior festivities in uniform.

In conjunction with SSC’s Senior Game, the Cardinals traded in their red for blue…donning autism awareness shirts, with the proceeds going to The Miracle League of Sioux City. Dylan and the Cardinals were not the only ones supporting the event as fans from both teams put on the blue shirts to support the cause.

Under Dylan’s blue shirt was a red and white #40 jersey, matching the one she wore in her senior picture. Then, it was time for the big moment. After Dylan was announced in the starting lineup, the game began.

South Sioux City got the ball and went right to Dylan, who made the most of her opportunity as the senior scored her first varsity basket in front of the home crowd during the senior game!

It was a moment Dylan, her family, and the Cardinals may not ever forget while adding another memory toward the positive impact she’s had on those in the SSC program.

“She’s changed us. I mean, we’re just better people being around her just because she is that way. She’s so kind and funny and has her moments with us. You can’t not be in a good mood when you’re around her. So, just every day getting to spend that time with her has made us all better,” Selk said.

As much as the Cardinals have taught Dylan, they feel that they’ve learned so much more from her, speaking on the life lessons Dylan has provided, just by being herself.

“Always be kind. Always smile and have fun in life,” Dylan’s friend Addie Wendte highlighted.