LOS ANGELES - At first glance – you may not even notice anything different about one of the players on the Crescenta Valley High School basketball team. And while you may not always see him on the court, Joonie Roh has had a big impact on this team.
"If everybody in the world approach life like Joonie, I think it'd be a lot more pleasant place," said Freshman basketball coach, Mark Samford.
Joonie was born with cerebral palsy, which is a rare disorder that affects a person’s ability to move, maintain balance, and posture. It can be severe in many cases, but Joonie knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
"So for me, I was pretty lucky to be able to walk and talk because people with cerebral palsy… like they can't talk, you know, usually like in a wheelchair. So I'm pretty lucky," Roh said.
Despite being born with a disability, he knew early on that he wanted to be on the basketball court. He practiced, worked hard, and played in local YMCA leagues. Then, his parents suggested he try out for his freshman basketball team. And while Joonie struggles in some areas physically, the coaches saw something special.
"He's unafraid. He gives everything that I've seen his best shot and he stays even keel regardless of results," Samford added.
The team brought Joonie on as a manager, putting him in charge of keeping scores, tracking equipment, and helping out with the team. And even though it wasn’t the outcome he wanted, he put his heart into it – making sure he was the best manager he could be.
"When he’s on the floor, he’s going. When he's not, he's cheering. When he's managing, he's doing a great job at that. So that's what you get with him," Samford said.
But Joonie didn’t give up his dream of getting onto the court.
He participated in practices and worked through drills. Even though he wasn’t as physically strong as his teammates – he was willing to put in the work.
"We got up pretty good and put Junior in the game against one of our league teams. The boys were fired up about it and Junior came out, missed his first three, put the ball on the ground, made a little floater in the key. The boys went nuts and then he stepped out and made a three," Coach Samford said. "It was so good to see a kid achieve that."
Joonie is back this year for his senior year. Whether he’s on the court or off it, anyone on this team will tell you that he’s an indispensable part.
"He's going to give you what he's got as a teammate and you can't ask for anything, you can't ask for anything more than that from him," Coach Samford said.
And for Joonie, the feeling is mutual.
"I think this team helped me through a lot. I mean, the head coaches to the coaches, my teammates help me through a lot. I mean, they help me get better each and every day," the aspiring basketball player explained.
As for Joonie’s message to others who may be facing their own struggles?
"I would say just keep trying and never give up. I mean, I practice every single day. I'm not for one day, so I just keep trying. Never give up"