Dragons’ Sam Allen inspired by his sister

After spending a hot summer morning last June playing basketball, Sam Allen hugged his younger sister Katie. Together they left the gym and went home where Sam made Katie lunch. They then spent the entire afternoon together.

Sam is a Lewisburg all-state center and one of the community’s most popular teenagers. But there was nowhere he would have rather been that afternoon than with his 13-year-old sister. That really is the case every day. The Allen siblings share a special bond that goes beyond blood. They are each other’s best friend, each other’s inspiration.

Katie, a Lewisburg seventh-grader, has Down syndrome, but her ability to shine every day and overcome obstacles many do not encounter touches Sam. The 6-foot-7 center is Lewisburg’s all-time leading scorer, has helped Lewisburg start 14-0, is No. 4 in his class and will play college basketball next winter. Katie is a big reason why.

“She is probably the most caring and nicest person I know,” Sam said. “I love her to death. She motivates me to do everything I do because she is just an amazing person.”

Katie’s influence is evident every time Sam plays. He is a four-year starter who has Lewisburg poised to reach 20 wins for a fourth consecutive season. He earned all-state honors last year and is averaging a double-double once again. The Green Dragons also are closing in on their first league title since 2011.

Katie has been there the whole time, smiling, cheering and offering support. Whether Sam wins or loses, she remains proud. The same goes for the whole team. Katie is not only her brother’s biggest fan, but Lewisburg’s.

And as popular as Sam is, Katie might be even more so. Watch Lewisburg players light up whenever they see Katie and the power she provides becomes evident.

“It’s awesome to be around Katie,” Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. “The guys love seeing her and have so much respect for her.”

Katie was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that is associated with physical growth delays and mild to moderate intellectual disability. She faces challenges every day, but few who see her would know it. Katie is a well-adjusted, outgoing seventh-grader who is receiving good grades at Lewisburg. She is a cheerleader, plays basketball, swims and competes in Special Olympics.

Nothing really slows down Katie, who vigorously attacks every day and who loves being around others. She sometimes even will approach girls and try setting them up on dates with her brother. Match-maker, athlete, student … Katie makes an impact every day.

“She’s incredibly independent and incredibly gifted in a number of ways like emotions, caring and understanding,” Sam and Katie’s father, Doug, said. “Sometimes people can’t communicate as well, but she communicates very well and reads at her own grade level. She’s integrated into school incredibly well.”

Sam has played a prominent role there. He always has made it a point to include Katie in social activities. Sam is a big brother in every sense of the word, helping Katie develop, taking care of her when called upon and giving his time freely without complaint. He also helps coach on the Special Olympics basketball team has mother Missy started, although Katie says she is the better player.

Sam has never looked at any of this as a burden. Instead, it is a privilege. It makes him the young man he is.

“He puts Katie above his own accolades or his own goals,” Vaji said. “That is how much love and respect he has for her.”

“One thing the coaches that come to see Sam comment on is the interaction with his sister. They say that’s the kind of person we want to recruit and have as a member of our team,” Doug said. “As a parent, it makes you really proud to see how much they help each other. It’s not just a one-way street.”

Katie has helped Sam view the world in a different way than some teenagers might. He appreciates the gifts he has been blessed with, but also does all he can to help others less fortunate. He is a fantastic advocate for the underdog. He is a fierce competitor on the court, but off it Sam accepts everyone. Not surprisingly, he is looking toward a future in which he can better understand and help those less fortunate.

“Katie’s been a huge impact on how I view the world,” Sam said. “I’m really accepting of all different people. I’ve developed a real sense of empathy where I can see the world through other people’s eyes.”

Last Wednesday, Allen did not see Katie’s eyes in the stands. For the first time in a long time, Katie was not there. She had a good excuse, though. Katie was at home taking care of her mother, sick with the flu. That symbolizes who Katie is. She is a fighter every day, but at her core, Katie is a helper and a caregiver.

Katie Allen is all heart. She treats others the way we hope to be treated ourselves and the way we wish we treated others all the time. And she makes it look so easy.

“She’s taught me a lot of lessons about acceptance and diversity … about everything,” Sam said. “She’s a real role model for me.”

Soon Sam’s scholastic career will be over. It has been an impressive ride and the wins and the individual achievements have been nice. Ultimately, it is the hugs he receives every game and every practice that Sam will remember most. It has been a tremendous high school career and Katie has decorated each moment.

What a great family story this has become.

“It’s neat to see how much love they have for each other,” Vaji said. “It’s a pretty special relationship those two have.”

AROUND THE AREA

Jersey Shore is making strides and still has a shot at the No. 8 seed in the District 4 Class AAA playoffs after defeating playoff-bound Mansfield, 70-57, last Friday. The Bulldogs built a 41-15 halftime lead as Mac Griswold and River Haines both scored 18 points. Griswold is averaging 17.3 points over his last three games … Montoursville (7-6) delivered in the fourth quarter on the road in consecutive games winning hard-fought contests against Bloomsburg and Southern Columbia. The Warriors have made a two-win improvement since last season and edged Bloomsburg, 66-64, when emerging sophomore Ethan Buirch converted a 3-point play with 14 seconds remaining … Montgomery’s Cameron St. James is having a big breakout season and scored a career-high 30 points in a 47-46 win over CMVT … Cowanesque Valley (14-3) is having one of the best seasons in program history and overcame an eight-point deficit Friday to beat Northeast Bradford, 77-67, and open a three-game NTL-II lead. Bryant Painter leads the area in scoring and had 32 in that win while Tyler Melko had 35 points and 13 rebounds a day later in an 85-41 win over Austin. Melko needs just eight more points to reach 1,000 … Bucktail recorded the week’s biggest upset, stunning Warrior Run, 69-63, after having lost to it by 27 last month. Tristan Schelb had a career-high 20 points … Liberty senior D.J. Carroll had a monster performance in a 64-58 win over Williamson, scoring 21 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, making seven steals and dealing four assists … Muncy point guard Nate Paisley is having a nice season and had 13 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in a 54-41 win over CMVT … Wellsboro clinched a playoff berth Saturday when it beat Liberty, 49-26. The Green Hornets have reached districts every season during the 2000s.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse for more high school basketball information.