On Monday night, Cory Pitsenberger started in his first basketball game of his high school career, and managed to score the team’s first basket on Senior Night.
It was the lead-up to the event, however, that made the moment so special.
Pitsenberger, a senior at Eastern High School in Louisville, has had an exceptionally difficult life growing up. He was born with Saethre-Chotzen syndrome, a genetic condition in which causes premature skull growth and fusion of the skull bones, that required him to have major head surgery at a young age. Cory also struggles with Asperger syndrome, hyptonia, and trichotillomania, among other challenges.
His mother, Amy, was also born with Saethre-Chotzen, making the task of raising Cory a tall one. As a result, Cory has been living with his grandparents since he was a toddler.
His grandmother, Sally Pitsenberger, was diagnosed with cancer in the past year, and is still battling the disease every day. With Sally needing more individual attention, excess stress has been added to the equation for the entire family.
Cory also deals with daily struggles such as communication problems, difficulties in understanding his peers, reading and writing skills, etc., as a result of his disabilities. On top of these struggles, Cory has dealt with bullying his entire life, just adding to the list of adversities he has had to overcome.
Needless to say, life hasn’t been easy for the big-hearted senior.
On Monday night, however, all of the little struggles in Cory’s life disappeared, at least for a little while.
After spending four years as the team’s manager, Cory suited up for the first time and started for the Eagles on Senior Night, scoring the team’s first bucket against Atherton High School.
Chants of “Cory! Cory! Cory!” filled the gym at the opening tip, and didn’t stop until he put the ball through the hoop on the first possession of the game. At that point, the chants transitioned into an uproar.
In case there were any doubts, the fan support was certainly noticed.
“It was awesome to see the crowd that excited. I feel like they really supported me, I loved the chants,” said Pitsenberger.
Support around Cory at Eastern has always been high, as students see the impact he makes on all of those around him. Whether it be leading his senior class at pep rallies or being front-and-center in the student section at football games, his passion for life and the world of sports is second to none.
“When I went there, Cory was like a celebrity. He lived and breathed Eastern High School, and worked his hardest for the basketball team. His pride was contagious, ” said Ryan Golway, a former Eastern student. “There was never a day Cory didn’t give it his all.”
As the team’s manager, he has the duty of getting water and towels for his teammates, assisting coaches in practice, and hyping up the team before games. Coaches and players have rallied behind this support, playing a pivotal role in the team’s success. And he absolutely loves the opportunity.
“I just want to help out any way I can,” Pitsenberger said. “I love my teammates and want to do whatever I can to put them in position to win.”
After dedicating countless hours of his time to the program throughout his time in school, Eastern coach David Henley decided to reward Cory in the best way he knew possible. He was able to walk out with his mother and grandfather for Senior Night festivities, went through pregame warmups, and was introduced as a starter over the gym’s loud speaker.
And of course when it came to the actual game, Cory made the most of his opportunity and hit the big shot.
“They asked me about it last week, and I told them I wanted to play. When I got my jersey, I just wanted to represent my school well. I’m really glad I made my shot,” said Pitsenberger.
Basketball has been Cory’s escape from the outside noise since his childhood. He has been extremely involved in Special Olympics and Unified sports for years now, along with being a devout fan of the NBA, college basketball, and high school basketball in the state of Kentucky. Whether it be staying up late to watch LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers play on ESPN, or reading up on the Eagles’ next opponent, Cory is constantly surrounding himself with the game he loves most.
For Special Olympics, Cory has been the leader on his team for several years, averaging a double-double over the course of his entire basketball career. In a recent game, Cory scored 38 points in a victory for his team, the Louisville Wizards. He will be competing in a tournament for Special Olympics this weekend, and eventually the SOKY State Tournament from March 10-12 in Louisville.
After graduating with honors at Eastern this spring, Cory will be attending Ahren’s Learning Center in Louisville in the fall. It comes as no surprise, but he plans on pursuing a career in sports management, hoping to eventually work for a college basketball or NBA team after graduating.
Eastern may have suffered a tough loss to Atherton on Monday, but the night will always hold a special place in the heart of a kid that deserves it more than anyone.