Dustin Berger lives life to the fullest

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By Warren Parkin

Twenty-two-year-old Dustin Burger, an active volunteer in the community, is the new assistant basketball coach for Cedar Key Middle School boys. He works under the direction of head coach Norman “Biz” Paeth.

“I love it,” Dustin said of his new responsibilities.

Dustin brings 4 years of competitive ball experience and unbridled enthusiasm to the team. He played for Cedar Key Middle from 2003-2007. Joshua, his younger brother, plays for the team.

During Friday night’s game against Seven Rivers Dustin stood the entire time, clapping, encouraging his players, shouting instructions and signaling substitutions. “I talk to them: spread around, move around, run!” he said. He enjoys the camaraderie he has with the team. “I like the playing and when they get off (the court) and talk to me,” he explained.

When not coaching, Dustin attends a program at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church sponsored by Central Florida Community College in Chiefland. Dustin is continuing his education in survival academics and life skills. He and fellow students write journals about day-to-day happenings, discuss current events and learn about gardening.

“It’s pretty good,” he said. “I get to make new friends.”

Fridays find Dustin volunteering at CKS in Emiley Campbell’s pre-k and in Sherie Johns’ first-grade classes where he reads to the children, encourages students to stay on task, and runs errands. Teachers also periodically ask him to volunteer on other days when they need extra help.

In his free time Dustin watches musicals ranging from the Sound of Music to High School Musical. He also likes Raven. Dustin loves musicals because “They sing and dance,” he said.

Among his hobbies, Tae Kwon Do stands out. After two years of hard work and a 5-hour test, Dustin received his first-degree black belt when he was 14. “They didn’t cut him any slack,” said his mother Tina Burger. “He had to do everything the others did.”

Dustin’s zest for life is contagious. As a player for CKS even fans for the other team cheered him on. Perhaps his example of overcoming obstacles makes people like him.

Born with Down Syndrome, Dustin began receiving physical therapy when he was an infant. He started attending school at age 3. Doctors predicted that he would never be able to read. His brother Jacob who is older by 15 months didn’t let that stop him from teaching Dustin the alphabet and numbers. Eventually, Dustin learned to read.

“Dustin so far has been able to do everything they told me he couldn’t do,” said his mother.