"I hope it's a day he'll remember for a long, long time," says USF Men's Basketball Coach Chris Johnson.
It was a big day for a Sioux Falls 7-year-old. Wednesday. It was draft and signing day as he became a University of Sioux Falls Cougar. He's the newest and youngest member of the team. Thanks to a national organization and USF Men's Basketball, a dream was made reality for a boy named Jonah.
When he was 5-years-old, Jonah was admitted to PICU where his family learned that he might never go home. Immediately, his family took him to the Mayo Clinic to diagnose his issue. Doctors diagnosed that he had adrenal insufficiency and his glands were not producing cortisol and thus unable to fight off infection. His organs began shutting down and further tests revealed he had Small Fiber Peripheral Neuropothy (SFPN), a condition that causes damage to small nerves resulting in pain throughout his body.
According to his mother, Lori, Jonah spends every day in pain and mostly in his back, hands, and legs. He is only able to go to school on and off, but does well socially and emotionally. Physically, he gets fatigued easily and can only walk short distances before using a stroller to help him get around. He is surrounded by a loving family, including his 15-year old brother Noah and sisters, 13-year old Miranda and nine-year old Arianna.
Life for Jonah is not always easy physically, or emotionally. But Wednesday was different. He signed on with the Cougars.
"It really feels like I'm a part of them, a lot," Jonah Schlekeway said.
It's all thanks to 'Team Impact' and USF athletics.
"They reached out to us saying Jonah was in the area and loved basketball. Pretty easy decision to make that we would love to be a part of it. It just started from there," Coach Johnson said.
His very own signing day event made his spot on the team official.
"It's a humbling experience. Sometimes, when you're in college you don't realize how great you have it. Go to a great university, play basketball. Everything is pretty good. To see a young guy go through some rough things by no fault of his own. It put a lot of things into perspective," Johnson said.
USF Basketball players agree.
"Most of the guys have never been a part of anything like this before. Having Jonah on our team, cheering for us at our home games and practice will be helpful for us," USF Sophomore Guard Giovanni Pastrano said. "It'll motivate us to do better, be a role model since he likes basketball."
Jonah will get to be with the team at all home games and coach says he's already hard at work at their practices.
"We're doing free-throws. He comes over and said 'coach, I gotta talk to you. 22 missed 2 free throws.' He's been active and you can see our guys, their spirits are lifted when he walks in the gym. Everyone gets excited, it's been fun," Coach Johnson said.
It's a dream come true for a 7-year-old which makes this a big win for everyone.
Team Impact, a nationally-based nonprofit organization, connected Schlekeway with the USF men's basketball program. Jonah is among 787 children nationally at 306 colleges and universities in 44 states to have similar "drafts" to give medically challenged children an opportunity to experience the team atmosphere and just have fun.