Rumson-Fair Haven autistic basketball player Matty Cools shoots

It was a moment no one in the gym will ever forget.

Matt “Matty Cools” Newman, an autistic student at Rumson-Fair Haven High School, earned a spot on the varsity basketball team’s starting lineup for a game against Holmdel.

Not only that, but he stole the ball shortly after the tip and scored a layup.

“I loved it,” Matty Cools said.

Everyone too. The video of the sequence has gone viral. Eli Manning sent him a signed New York Giants jersey with a personal message. Matty Cools, already everyone’s favorite teammate, rose to full-fledged celebrity status at his school and throughout the Shore Conference.

Rumson-Fair Haven's Matt Newman dribbles after taking the ball from Holmdel's Drew Pollock (#21).

Of course, there is so much more to the story.

There are the parents who adopted Matt when he was two months old and helped him find a life-changing connection to the sport.

There’s the coach who literally dragged him into the basketball program, where he was embraced from the start.

And there’s the player Holmdel who Matty stole the ball from. His sportsmanship deserves to be highlighted.

In a school year marked by a football hazing scandal at Wall High School, this is your reminder that, done right, school sports can be uplifting and inspiring. This is far from the only example that exists. But it’s spectacular.

Rumson-Fair Haven High School boys basketball manager Matt

“With inclusion, he just flourished”

Ed Newman spent his formative years steeped in sports. He played basketball at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen and lacrosse at Rutgers University. While he and his wife Mary Newman were raising Matt, the television in their Rumson household was often tuned to hoops. For a long time they didn’t know if anything was happening.

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“When he was 5, he was still in diapers and he was unresponsive,” Ed Newman said. “We said, ‘This is going to be a test for the rest of his life. “”

That changed after kindergarten.

“He loves school,” Ed said. “With the inclusion, he just blossomed.”

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Rumson-Fair Haven High School boys basketball manager Matt

In eighth grade, Matt accompanied Ed to the Rumson-Fair Haven Men’s Basketball NJSIAA Divisional Championship game. After the Bulldogs won, Ed introduced Matt to head coach Chris Champeau.

“I took him by the hand, we walked into the locker room and the guys were jumping up and down,” Champeau said. “His eyes lit up. I could tell he was so excited, the light was on and from then on he was part of the program.

Matt had just entered a whole new world.

“He came out of the locker room and said, ‘I’m the manager of the basketball team for the next four years,'” Ed Newman said.

He even has a nickname.

“We had a kid on the team named Matty Ice,” Champeau said. “So I said, ‘We have a Matty Ice, but you’re cooler. You are Matty Cools.

Rumson-Fair Haven High School boys basketball manager Matt

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Every day is Christmas

Matty Cools isn’t just hanging out on the team. He directs the first phase of each practice. It starts with a “Jeopardy!” for gamers. Matty comes up with the questions and moderates the proceedings, hitting a buzzer for wrong answers (prompting a wind sprint by the errant answerer).

He also runs a “kangaroo pitch” before each game that determines where the team’s subs sit on the bench. That’s a big deal, as Champeau has an unusually high number of players on the varsity roster. He cuts no elder; this year there are 19.

“I feel like the more guys that can be involved in the program, the more guys that can have something good in their lives instead of playing video games or whatever,” explained the coach. “Having so many guys not only exposes them to a kid like Matty Cools; it also gave Matty Cools lots of kids to build his network (of friends) with.

Regarding the order of the bench, it is based on enthusiasm. The more enthusiastic substitutes are seated closer to center court, where the action is. Matty is the referee.

“I bring a lot of enthusiasm to the team,” he said. “I like to energize the team. Everyone motivates me too.

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Matty is not a one sport guy. He runs cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring, and will join the cross country team at Brookdale Community College in Middletown in September. Whatever he does, it’s with pep in his approach.

“Every day is Christmas for him,” Champeau said. “He’s so happy to be here. He lives life as we say we should live life.

This kind of attitude is contagious.

“People at the start were like, ‘It’s so good what you’re doing for him,'” Champeau said. “But in reality, what he does for us is tenfold.”

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seniors day

As usual, the Bulldogs are good. They are 16-2 and the playoffs await them. The most significant game of the regular season, however, took place on February 5. It was Senior Day, a rite of passage where every senior is celebrated in a pre-game ceremony.

“Matt has been talking about Senior Day since he was a freshman,” Ed Newman said.

Holmdel was the perfect opponent. Like Champeau, Hornets coach Sean Devaney is thinking big. In 2018, Matty Cools’ predecessor as Rumson-Fair Haven manager Jack Velcamp scored a bucket against Holmdel on Senior Night. Velcamp has dwarfism; he is 4 feet 2 inches tall.

As it happened then, Devaney prepared his team for his role in the Matty Cools moment.

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Holmdel High School Boys Basketball Team Assemble

“Coach tells us all the time that some things are bigger than basketball,” said Holmdel goalkeeper Saverio Bodnar. “It’s one of those things.”

Drew Pollock, another Holmdel guard, was handling the ball when Matty took it from him, starting his scoring streak.

“Growing up, a lot of people dream of playing college basketball and hitting a shot,” Pollock said. “I was able to do that. But if I can help make someone else’s dream come true, for me, that’s just as rewarding.

Pollock isn’t an obsessive social media user, but he knew he was going to be “the kid who got the ball stolen” in a video watched by tens of thousands of people. How mature is this young man? He wanted it to go viral.

“It’s something he will never forget – and neither will we,” Pollock said.

Ed Newman couldn’t thank Holmdel enough for his sportsmanship towards his son.

“It was great to see him achieve his dream of having a college game,” the father said, adding that Pollock “should be (Shore Conference) Player of the Week.”

Champeau shared this feeling.

“I heard the kid say it was the best turnover of his life,” he said.

Rumson-Fair Haven won the game by 15 points, but that was not the story.

“Our team is more than wins and losses,” said Bodnar of Holmdel.

What message.

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Eli Manning's autographed jersey sent to Matt Newman

Postscript: Eli’s jersey

On Wednesday, Matty came home from school to find a special delivery. It was a New York Giants No. 10 jersey, signed and sent by Eli Manning.

“At Matty Cools, let’s go!” it reads, followed by the initials “AO3”.

It stands for “Attitude on 3”, which is the Bulldogs’ rallying cry.

“I was so surprised and excited,” Matty said of the gift.

Manning, who shares a mutual friend with Ed Newman, has followed Matty Cools’ journey from afar.

And what a trip it has been.

“The fact that I’m on the basketball team is amazing,” Matty said.

Not just for him.

“Basketball gave us a platform for someone like Cools to really grow in his life and at the same time he’s not the only kid growing,” Champeau said.

Over the past four years, the coach said, “I’ve had 100 basketball players go through the program – and every one of them is a better person because Matty was there.”

Jerry Carino is a community columnist for Asbury Park Press, focusing on Jersey Shore‘s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at [email protected]

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