Watch: Blind basketball player makes free throw; crowd erupts

ZEELAND, Mich. — As Jules Hoogland prepared to make a free throw during Tuesday’s basketball game, you could hear a pin drop in the gymnasium at Zeeland East High School.

>> Read more trending news

Hoogland, a junior at the Michigan high school, is blind and had not made a single shot in practice, but with a little help from a friend she brought the capacity crowd of roughly 2,500 to its feet when she sank her basket.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, I did not expect that,’ and then the applause,” she told WZZM.

Hoogland, who uses sound to orient herself to the world around her, had a friend strike the back of the backboard with a stick, providing the “auditory cue she needed,” the TV station reported.

“With the sound, it gives me an exact location of where the hoop is, so then I know where to shoot,” Hoogland told WZZM.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

Brandy Navetta, the Zeeland Public Schools communications and marketing director, shared the extraordinary moment on Twitter, along with the caption, “And you thought March Madness was exciting. Zeeland Public Schools Unified Basketball took over the court this morning, and the crowd went WILD!”

According to “Good Morning America,” both Zeeland East and Zeeland West high schools participate in zLinks, a program that pairs special education students with general education mentors, resulting in Tuesday’s inclusive basketball game.

Superintendent Brandi Lyn Mendham told “GMA” in a prepared statement that Zeeland Public Schools have seen a positive outcome with the zLinks program, which she called an “absolute point of pride in our system.”

“We are grateful for the way this program has impacted our students across the district as it represents the best of what Zeeland has to offer: compassion, opportunities, and relationships,” Mendham said.

The inclusive sports, in particular, have made a significant impact on Zeeland students, Zeeland West special education teacher Nathan VandeGuchte told the program.

“The lens with which many of our special education students are viewed has now been forever changed. They know that they are important, and they recognize that they are contributing members of our student body!,” VandeGuchte said in a prepared statement.

“Jules has worked so hard over the years at getting the feel for that shot. It was so moving to see her hit that shot again in front of 2,500 people. We couldn’t have been more excited for her and her family. It capped off what was a very memorable day for all of us!” he added.

For Hoogland, however, the shot was more than an opportunity to showcase her athletic ability. It was a chance to truly share with all in attendance what it’s like to dribble in her shoes.

“That’s what I have to do every day, I have to educate people because most people don’t understand how I live my life. This is my normal, but they don’t know what it’s like to be blind,” she told WZZM.

Did we mention that ESPN’s SportsCenter picked up and circulated the now viral clip?

“It can be challenging, but you just have to keep going,” says Hoogland. “If it’s something you love, don’t give it up,” Hoogland added.