Born without left hand, freshman plays basketball, inspires

Mike White
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In this Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 photo, Seneca Valley freshman Sydney Ring, who was born without a left hand, takes a shot against against Shaler during a junior varsity high school basketball game at Seneca Valley High School in Harmony, Pa. (Steph Chambers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

PITTSBURGH – Sydney Ring was 5 when she came to her mother and asked if she could play basketball in a recreation league, just like some other girls her age.

“From the day she was born, I made this promise to myself and I would say it a lot,” said Cheryl Ring. “The focus should never be on what she can’t do, but what she can do.”

Ten years later, it is somewhat of a marvel what Sydney Ring can do on the basketball court.

Ring is 15, a freshman guard on the Seneca Valley High School junior varsity team. She makes 3-pointers, sometimes drives to the basket and passes with aplomb.

By the way, Sydney Ring has only one hand.

“When you’re 14 or 15, I don’t know if you really understand at what being an inspiration really is,” Seneca Valley coach Todd Schoeffel said. “But she can be an inspiration.”

Due to a congenital birth defect, Ring was born without a left hand. She has nothing below the left wrist.

Having only one hand wouldn’t be a problem in a sport like soccer, which Ring played for a number of years. Then she gave it up after sixth grade to concentrate more on basketball, where two hands seem essential. Ring has been playing basketball ever since her mother obliged to her wish a decade ago.

Yes, she can.

“If a kid has a disability, usually people don’t think you’ll do as well,” Ring said. “When I make a 3-pointer or do something, people are like, ‘She’s pretty good.’ Sometimes after a game, people will say something like, ‘You’re pretty good for what you don’t have.’”

But what Ring does have is a desire to simply compete – and prove she’s just another player. You might not think the 5-foot-8 Ring isn’t doing all that much because she’s on the JV. She’s not tremendous, but she is playing and is competitive – with one hand. That’s a story in itself. She is averaging five points a game for the JV team and has double figures in 3-pointers made this season. Schoeffel said Ring seems to be getting better and better and Schoeffel expects her to one day be a varsity player, if not as a sophomore then as a junior.

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In this Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 photo, Seneca Valley freshman Sydney Ring, who was born without a left hand, gathers with her teammates before a junior varsity high school basketball game against Shaler at Seneca Valley High School in Harmony, Pa. (Steph Chambers/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Yes, she can.

“It is so motivating,” said Haley Cramer, a junior and starting guard on the Seneca Valley varsity. “You look at her and think, ‘If she goes out there and works as hard – or harder – than anyone else, then why can’t I work that hard?’ She gives us no excuses. She’s shown that if you want to do something, just do it.

“I’m amazed at her and I think everyone on the team is amazed. She does everything we do. In dribbling drills in practice, she’s as good as us, if not better.”

Ring is a typical teenager who likes hanging with friends and watching movies. She is not a typical student, with close to a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom. Sydney is the youngest child of Patrick and Cheryl Ring. Oldest son, Griffin, is a senior at Seneca Valley who used to play basketball in junior high. Sydney claims she can now beat her brother in a game of one-and-one. When Sydney was asked what her brother would say to that claim, Cheryl Ring, sitting close by, interrupted and said with a laugh, “Oh, he won’t lie. He knows it’s true.”

Sydney Ring is a little quiet and reserved toward adults. She wasn’t thrilled about doing an interview for this story because she simply wants to be known as a player – and not the player with one hand.

“I like being part of the team and not taking attention from anyone else,” said Ring.

But when you are competitive on a basketball court with only one hand, you’re not just another player. One of Ring’s inspirations is Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Griffin does not have a left hand. Ring has Griffin’s jersey.

“We have the same thing, one hand,” Ring said. “It’s really cool he’s made the pros.”

Ring has nice form on her shot. Right elbow is in. Follow through at the top is near perfect. But you may wonder how she shoots without a left hand. Well, she simply uses her left arm to set the ball.

Yes, she can.

“She’s very good at watching other people and finds her own way to do it,” said Cheryl Ring.

Sydney Ring said, “I really like Stephen Curry (of the Golden State Warriors). I watch a lot of his games. My dad actually taught me how to shoot and I just kept working at it.”

Dribbling is the most difficult thing, Ring said. Obviously, she dribbles with her right hand a lot. But there are times when she actually will dribble with her left arm a few times and then get the ball back to her right hand. She can dribble between her legs and behind her back.

She also finds it a little difficult at times to catch a hard pass because she basically catches it with one hand.

“We’re trying to push her harder to be able to do more, and maybe play with some more energy,” said Schoeffel. “But do I appreciate what she can do? Absolutely.

“She has some work to do, but there is no doubt in my mind, she might possibly be able to come off the bench and possibly get some varsity minutes next year. She’ll be a varsity player at some point.”

“She’s your typical 15-year-old. Trust me, it’s not all unicorns and angels,” Cheryl Ring said with a laugh. “But we’re extremely proud. She’s just strong-willed. That is probably a good word for her. Even just with little things, away from basketball, like tying her shoes with one hand. Most of us, it might take a half hour to figure out how to do that with one hand. She just does it regularly like everything else.”

Yes, she can.