Jackie Sternberger knows a thing or two about basketball.
Sternberger, then Jackie Snodgrass, scored more than 1,500 points during her college career at Southwestern Oklahoma State. She’s even a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
She’s coached boy’s and girl’s basketball for many years and is currently the middle school girls coach at Kingfisher. Although she’s had lots of success on the sideline, she recently decided she could use some help. She reached out to one of the biggest basketball junkies she knows: her five-year-old great-nephew Keon Mahoney.
“I told him when we come to Bethany I could sure use an assistant coach,” said Sternberger. “I asked him if he would want to help me coach, and he’s pretty shy, but he talked about it forever.”
Most boys Keon’s age dream of being a fireman or policeman or a cowboy. He wants to be a coach. In fact, the number one wish on his Christmas list this year was a suit.
“I don’t know if he was more excited about actually coaching or getting to wear his coaching clothes,” admitted his mom, Katie. “He had a shirt and tie and all that because that’s what his dad wears. He always wants to wear his coaching clothes. He was very excited about his coaching debut.”
Keon, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t really have a choice but to be surrounded by sports. His dad, Ryan, is the associate head coach of the men’s basketball team at Southern Nazarene University. His mom, Katie (Snodgrass) Mahoney, was a member of SNU’s 2004 national championship team. His cousin, Jett, scored more than 2,000 points in his prep career and currently plays at Rogers State. Another cousin, Jace, is a tight end for the Green Bay Packers.
“Katie always brought Keon to my boys’ games and he’s just been a sports junkie his whole life,” said Sternberger. “A couple of years ago his dad came home after a game and he asked him what he thought and he said, ‘Number 23 has bad body language.’ They laughed and said, yep he’s going to be a coach some day.”
Keon patrolled the sidelines with pride that night, shouting instructions and high fiving the players.
“I yelled ‘Block out!,’ but they didn’t do it very much,” admitted Keon.
“He’s seen a lot of basketball games so he knows what coaches are supposed to do,” said Katie.
“He was super excited about getting to hold the clipboard,” said Sternberger with a laugh. “A couple of times he drew up something and one of the assistants asked him what he would do. I told the girls during one of the timeouts this is what Keon has drawn. It’s called the Keon Special.”
Did the play work?
“Ya, a few times!” said Keon excitedly.
“One time a loose ball bounced over his head and I said ‘Dude, you’ve got to keep your head on a swivel’, ” said Sternberger. “He cracked up and said ‘I wasn’t ready for that!'”
“My girls were kind of prepared,” added Sternberger. “I told them not to make a big deal of it because he’ll get embarrassed. They did perfect and it was great.”
In the end, Kingfisher pulled out the victory, giving Keon his first career win.
“The first thing he said was, ‘We won!’ recalled Katie. “Then he said, ‘Did you see that play that I drew up?’ He was really excited. It was really fun for him.”
“This was truly one of the highlights of his day,” added Sternberger. “The next day at physical therapy Katie said he was telling all the girls all about getting to coach.”
In a day filled with exciting firsts, Keon didn’t hesitate when asked what the favorite part of coaching his first game was.
“Winning!,” shouted Keon.
“Jackie said we could come to any game we want to so we’ll have to see which ones we can come to,” said Katie. “It’s something he would do every day if we let him.”
“He’s just a go-getter,” added Sternberger. “My boys think he’s amazing and I do too.”