Bensalem teen with Down syndrome revels in success

Kevin Grow joining 76ers players for a pregame chant before a Feb. 18 game with Cleveland at the Wells Fargo Center. The team signed Grow to a two-day contract and he had an honorary roster spot for the game.
Kevin Grow joining 76ers players for a pregame chant before a Feb. 18 game with Cleveland at the Wells Fargo Center. The team signed Grow to a two-day contract and he had an honorary roster spot for the game. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 03, 2014

The four three-pointers he swished in the final minutes of a recent Bensalem High School basketball game made Kevin Grow a national celebrity.

But that's not what defines him to his coach.

To his father, Earl Grow, it isn't the medals and trophies that cover the walls and shelves of Kevin's bedroom.

And to his mother, Dorothy Grow, it isn't the sudden fame that made Kevin first a 76er and, now, a Harlem Globetrotter.

To them, and many others, it is Grow's tenacity; his courage; his unwillingness to let Down syndrome impose limits on his zest for life; his openness to others.

"If you're ever having a bad day," said Jeffrey News, a classmate who has known Grow since the seventh grade, "just go to Kevin."

"Kevin changes people's lives," Earl Grow said.

Long before the 18-year-old Grow made those shots seen 'round the world on YouTube, he already was a legend in Bensalem High basketball circles.

At the end of a preseason practice four years ago, the Owls were having a hard time making free throws. Each time a player missed, he would have to run a "suicide" lap, up and down the court.

The misses kept coming. And the players were getting madder - and more fatigued.

"We couldn't make a foul shot," said coach John Mullin, brother of former NBA star Chris Mullin.

Someone, and it is unclear who, asked the manager - Kevin Grow - to take a shot. The coach and players agreed that, if Grow made it, practice was over.

And Grow nailed it.

It was the icebreaker. The players were just getting comfortable being around a boy with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development.

But from then on, practice would not end until Grow sank a foul shot. And with each one, he scored more points with the players.

It wasn't that any initial reluctance to embrace him really mattered to Grow. He views everyone as his friend, and anyone who is nice to him as a best friend.

"In high school everyone is a tough guy," Mullin said. "But then you have Kevin flying through the halls giving you a giant bear hug. To Kevin, his world is his world. He doesn't think he's any different."

'Gift from God'

By the end of that freshman season the basketball team had welcomed Grow, wrapping their arms around him during the national anthem at the beginning of games.

These days, Grow's popularity is evident. He sits with the football stars at lunch. Girls ask him to dances, and the basketball players made room for him on their roster.

Grow became well-known outside Bensalem after Mullin put him in a game Feb. 7, and Grow made a free throw and a fast-break layup.

Video of the layup was spread through social media. So the Bensalem gym buzzed with excitement for the Feb. 8 Senior Day game as fans and friends gathered to see what Grow could do next.

That's when he hit the now-famous four three-pointers. With Bensalem safely ahead and two minutes to go, Grow entered the game to raucous cheers, and he made four of his five three-pointers as players from both Bensalem and Neshaminy High, the opponent that afternoon, cheered him on.

"None of us could believe it," said Laura Grow, Kevin's 23-year-old sister. His team "really gets it, and it's neat that they were a part of it. He's the more popular sibling for sure."

That performance got Grow mentions on ESPN and other media across the country, and left him beaming. Being around others who are excited and involved is important to him.

"Yeah," Grow said when asked if the shots he made in that memorable Senior Day game made everyone he knows happy.

His Down syndrome limits his speaking ability, but Grow's message comes out clear.

"He's a gift from God," Mullin said after that game. "He really is."

Worked extra hard

Grow wasn't born to make free throws and three-pointers. For someone with Down syndrome, physical skills can require tremendous effort. But Grow has sought such challenges.

He has a lengthy list of sports he has tried that includes tennis, volleyball, soccer, and bowling.

"He even tried bocce," Dorothy Grow said.

He is a skilled basketball shooter, of course. But Grow also runs track, and is a prizewinning swimmer who competes in the Special Olympics.

"He's always been a kid who has worked extra hard," Earl Grow said.

Along with athletics, Grow has acted in plays, loves singing show tunes, and is interested in video and TV production. He has been to the taping of a community TV program in Bensalem and met Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo while he was there.

For his recent achievements on the basketball court and for overcoming adversity off of it, Grow and his Bensalem teammates - they gave him a chance to start on Senior Day and helped him get open for his three-pointers - recently were honored by the 76ers.

The Sixers signed Grow to a two-day contract, and he attended a practice and was given a uniform with his No. 33, and an honorary roster spot for a recent game.

Next Sunday, Grow has been invited to play for the Globetrotters, making him and Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain the only players to be members of both the 76ers and Globetrotters.

At a Feb. 18 game against Cleveland at the Wells Fargo Center, Grow was a sensation with the 76ers crowd.

"Put Kevin in! Put Kevin in!" fans chanted throughout the fourth quarter.

During the pregame warm-ups, Grow played one-on-one with several 76ers while the arena slowly filled.

Then, as his name was announced, punctuated by flames that burst from the backboard and highlighted by a spotlight in the darkness, Grow ran out of the tunnel onto the court, jumped into the middle of the huddle, and danced with his new teammates.

Across the court, a mass of fans in blue Bensalem sweaters cheered and waved "Go Kevin" signs.

Grow waved back, that signature smile on his face.

"My job," Earl Grow said, "is to just put him out in society and hope to hell everything works out."

So far, Kevin Grow has made things work out pretty well.

"Twenty years ago, kids would have made fun of him," Earl Grow said. "But Kevin, he never has a bad day."


cmindock@phillynews.com@clarkmindock

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