Eight-year-old Ashir Muhammad holds the basketball in his right hand, steadies it and then lifts it into the air, letting it balance on the tip of his index finger. The ball spins once, then twice, then a third time, the Butler Avenu third-grader grinning from ear to ear as he maintains control.
As the ball slows and begins to slip off his finger, Ashir raises his left arm, shortened at what would have been an elbow, steadying the ball with it. It works, and he grins again, satisfied at the accomplishment.
Ashir was born missing his left forearm and hand, his mother Dana Muhammad said matter-of-factly, smiling at her son. “He’s never let that stop him, not once. He’s never seen it as a disadvantage.”
Ashir smiles and rubs his arm. “You really can’t miss what you never had,” the 8-year-old said matter-of-factly, dropping the basketball and picking up a nearby football, tossing it into the air and catching it with ease.
The youngster is a two-sport athlete with the Clinton Recreation and Parks Department, a standout, particularly in basketball where, his mother said, he was the “3-point man.”
As a member of the Cavaliers 7-8 -year-old rec team, Ashir fired on all cylinders, hard at it on defense, guarding opponents closely and, on the other side of the ball, sending the round ball soaring time after time into the cylinder.
“This year, out of eight games, he scored 61 points,” his mother said, pride clear in the smile reflective of her son’s. “He loves that 3-point shot.”
“I sure do,” Ashir chimes in. “I love it when I can put one in.”
Jerry Herring, a referee for the Clinton rec department, has watched Ashir play basketball and, he attested, he admires the young man’s tenancity and skill.
“He’s remarkable. You should see him play, see him go after a rebound or guard the ball. He’s the leading scorer and rebounder for his team, and you can tell just how much he loves the game.”
Herring called the young man quiet and unassuming, a leader by example. “He’s just a good kid; boy would I love to coach him.”
His disability, Herring said, was quickly overshadowed by his skill and his love for the game.
“By the third game of the season, you could watch the crowd watching him. They weren’t thinking about his disability, they were looking at him play and they were pulling for him, wanting him to do good. He’s just an inspiration — to kids but also to the spectators.”
For Ashir’s part, missing an arm isn’t something he thinks about; playing is.
“I just want to be good, and I want to play,” the youngster asserted.
It was that desire to play sports that led a timid Dana Muhammed to allow her son to take part in recreation sports.
His first venture into sports was football — flag football, that is. “I was scared for him to take on tackle. So when he said ‘mom I want to play,’ I just told him ‘OK, but no tackle.”’
Ashir agreed, at first, thrilled to be given the green light to play sports.
But he wasn’t satisfied just playing flag; he wanted more, even though he was admittedly a little frightened at the thought of being tackled.
“He finally said he wanted to try tackle,” his mother recalled.
Steeling her own nerves, Mrs. Muhammed said she agreed, offering one piece of advice to her brave young man. “I told him not to be afraid, that they couldn’t tackle him if they couldn’t catch him.”
Ashir smiles and nods, remembering his mom’s words. “So I did that, I ran and I ran hard,” Ashir said of this past football season when he began tackle football.
“Boy can he run,” his mother concurred.
In fact, he ran so well that as a member of the Giants rec team, Ashir scored five touchdowns in one game.
“I like to compete,” the youngster said, admitting that while he wasn’t crazy about being tackled, he actually liked to be on the giving end of bringing an opponent to the ground.
While the youngster enjoys playing football, it’s basketball that’s most in his blood.
Ashir’s dad, Faheem Muhammad, can see that in his son. He’s not only Ashir’s biggest fan but his coach, and he recognized early on the young man’s love — and knowledge of the game.
“He picks up on things real fast,” Muhammad said. “He’s athletic, it just comes naturally to him.”
Muhammad said his son had never once allowed his disability to define him, but rather used it to motivate him to be the very best he could be.
“He’s honestly never let it get in the way of him doing what he wanted to do,” his dad stressed.
As his coach, Muhammad said he strongly encouraged him to do his best, urging him to give it his all. “You didn’t have to push him, though, because Ashir was always going to give it his best. He wants people to look at him for the things he can do, not because of his disability, but in spite of it.
“I’m so very proud of him. I’ve learned far more from him than he has from me.”
Herring feels much the same.
“Ashir gives it all he’s got and he teaches others by his example. I think he makes the other kids play harder. He’s the kind of example of what sports is all about,” Herring stressed.
For Ashir, what sports is about is giving it his best, day in and day out. His goals include playing sports in middle and high school and, as with rec ball, giving 110 percent each time he’s on the field or the court.
“You know, when he first wanted to play sports, I was scared for him, really scared, but he’s so determined, it didn’t take long for me to realize that nothing can stop him, most especially his arm. He’s just a typical 8-year-old boy that loves sports.”
Ashir grins, nods his head and picks the basketball up once more. “Yep I love it,” he said, spinning the ball once more.