DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - It has been a magical year for the Dubuque Senior boys basketball team. The Rams beat Iowa City West 39-36 in the state high school basketball tournament, thanks to some help from their inspirational leader.
Joel Harvey celebrates with members of the Dubuque Senior high school boys' basketball team (Scott Saville/KCRG)
When Senior upset top-ranked Bettendorf to win the boys' substate final, there was no one happier than special assistant coach Joel Harvey.
"Joel has AT, or ataxia–telangiectasia. It's a neurodegenerative disease. He walked until about age 5, and then started stumbling," Linda Harvey, Joel's mom, said. "So he went into a wheelchair. He is getting to the age where a lot of the friends he had who had AT have passed away. This is very exciting for him to have this opportunity for as long as he can."
Joel graduated from Senior five years ago, and he is such a big fan of the team that they asked him to be a special assistant coach.
"Just being a part of the team it's like a family," Joel said.
The ability for him to stay involved has been important in giving Joel opportunities to stay active.
"It means so much to us, I was getting tears in my eyes," Linda said. "The guys fist bump him all the time. It's just great because, otherwise a lot of the kids with this disease sit at home a lot."
Joel isn't about to set at home and do nothing: He's a guy who climbs rock walls. That kind of drive and determination would be a valuable part of any team.
"I give them motivation," Joel said. "Never give up."
The other coaches and players love him, celebrating with him after their win against West High today.
"He has given me motivation every day, every game," Noah Carter, Dubuque Senior forward, said. "For him to fight through, and be strong for us, we try to return the favor to him. He is monumental for us."
Wendell Eimers, Dubuque Senior's head coach, knew it was the right move to keep Joel with the team.
"My players just think the world of him, and he lives for Senior basketball," Eimers said. "And he's awesome. He's my special adviser to the head coach."
Joel's motivational speeches before games seem to be working for the Rams, as they continue to advance through the tournament.