(This story originally aired on Feb. 8, 2017)
LEWISTOWN — There are few things Luke Derheim loves in life more than Fergus High School basketball.
“Once basketball season rolls around it’s everything to me,” said Derheim, the Lewistown boys basketball manager. “Every practice I’m here, every game. I’m the first one in and last one out. It’s pretty much life around here for me.”
As a kid growing up in Lewistown he dreamed of suiting up for the Eagles and playing varsity basketball. But sometimes life has other plans.
When Luke was a newborn, a neonatal heel prick revealed that he suffered from phenylketonuria or PKU for short.
It’s a genetic disorder that results in decreased metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine. The condition prevented Luke’s body from developing normally and causes various physical ailments.
But it never stopped Luke from taking the court.
“I don’t really want people to feel sorry for me,” Luke said. “I get out there and do what I need to do – play the game that I love.”
Luke, now a senior, has tried out for the varsity team every year. But his lack of physical development means he’s never survived the cut. But he feels connected to the hardwood and the Eagles team, so he’s settled into a role as the team manager.
“The hardest thing we have to do at the beginning of the season is cut Luke,” said head coach Scott Sparks. “But he comes to practice every day and hops in and practices with us when we need him. He’s a hard kid not to like and he’s very much a part of the team.”
And make no mistake, even though Luke doesn’t often take the court – he still bleeds blue and gold.
“When we have a tough loss he takes it harder than any of us do,” said sophomore forward Tanner Trafton. “He loves Fergus basketball that much and Fergus sports in general. He’s very inspiring because he doesn’t get to be out here with us because of (health) reasons and it really puts into perspective how lucky I am to be out here and play. It inspires me to play for sure.”
His dedication to the team and the school gave Sparks the idea to suit him up for Senior Night and try to get him in a game. The team tried to keep it a secret – but Luke caught wind that something was afoot. They broke the news to him on Wednesday.
“I think he started crying,” said sophomore Jaden Graham. “You could tell he was super excited, all of us were excited and really emotional.”
Sparks cracked a smile thinking about that moment.
“I think it was some of the reaction from his teammates that was even better,” said the Eagles’ second-year head coach. “They were so excited for him and hugged him. It was just extra special”
Saturday rolled around and with the Eagles leading Havre by 10 points, Sparks called for Luke, who couldn’t believe his ears.
“It was literally a dream,” said the senior. “I felt like I was dreaming, walking over to the check-in table and I was just still trying to figure out what was going on.”
And with less than five seconds left in the game, Luke got his moment. He drove to the bucket when something caught his eye.
“Me and my friends were joking earlier about getting blocked,” he said. “And as I’m driving to the lane I see a Havre kid and I go, ‘Oh well – this should be fun.’”
Luke tossed up a wobbly layup. It bounced on the rim — and went in.
Lewistown sealed a 49-39 win over Havre as the crowd rushed the court to celebrate with Luke.
“At first I just assumed that it was my teammates on the floor,” he said. “And then I looked up to the student section and realized no one was out there. And then I look around and I’m surrounded. … And I still had to go shake hands with Havre!”
“I knew it would happen in the end,” added Trafton. “I was just hoping that we could pull it off to get him in at the very end but once it happened it was so special. He’s been dreaming about that moment his whole life.”
Luke gives everything he has to his team every single day. But it’s what his team gave back to him on Saturday that will stay with Luke and everybody in the gym forever.
“These guys, they’ve done everything for me,” Derheim beamed. “They did everything they could to get me in the game, and Scott (Sparks) to give me the opportunity was very, very nice of him.”
UPDATE: The Lewistown Eagles enjoyed their first winning season since 2008, and have carried that momentum into 2017-18 with a 4-1 record entering 2018.