Monday, August 27, 2012

Hoops for Hope - because everyone can use a little hope

When Charley woke up on Saturday morning, what he thought was that it would be a typical day with BraddyDad (his latest nickname for Brad). 

What it turned out to be was a trip to Farragut High School to participate in the DSAG (Down syndrome Association of East Tennessee) Hoops for Hope – a yearly event designed to spend a day of fun, for individuals with Down syndrome.

Just the idea alone is awe-inspiring, as the University of Tennessee men’s and women’s basketball teams act as coaches, friends, and pals while the participants shoot hoops. 

I was unable to go because I was working, but that’s okay, it was a chance for some father and son bonding, and it must have worked because it translated into much more than just a day of fun. 

You see, when someone like Charley steps onto the court, it’s not really about how many hoops he can make. For Charley, it’s about being included.

Brad texted me throughout the day, giving a blow-by-blow description of the events as they unfolded. 

First, there was the gauntlet of Cheerleaders who formed two lines that the participants ran through as they were slapped high-fives. 

What these cheerleaders didn’t know was that Charley considers himself to be their equal, and he could prove it. There’s nothing Charley likes more than girls, and he made no secret of it as he ran the line, hugging each one.

“Hi Purty, I Shawley Pawma,” he said, making his way from one to the other, gathering as many hugs as he could, and stretching his thumb and baby finger from his ear to his mouth, and saying, “I love you. Call me.”

“He’s in heaven,” Brad texted. “He’s flirting with the cheerleaders.”

“No doubt,” I texted back.

That alone would have been enough. He could have gone home at that moment knowing all his “Purties” had hugged him. But there was more in store.

The teams sat with each other. They each got a power drink (something like a Thirst Quencher).

And then, the moment that made Brad gleam with pride.

“They’re playing the National Anthem,” he texted.

Then, another text. “He’s standing.”

“He’s got his hand over his heart.”

“He’s mouthing the words.”

Another text. “Oh, Sherry, I’ve got tears. "Grobbie" (Charley's nickname for my father, who passed away in June) would be so proud.”

“Wish I could be there,” I texted back.

The good news is that I got to witness it through Brad’s eyes.

The rest of the day I too swelled with pride. But I was also humbled. Charley was having the time of his life, and it was because of the efforts of DSAG and the UT athletes. Athletes whose job it is to win trophies and bring recognition for their school. Athletes who live in the spotlight during the peak of their season.

But not in this case. This time the athletes stepped out of the spotlight and turned the focus on the participants; people, like Charley, who have the overwhelming task of trying their best to be recognized, not for their disabilities, but for their abilities. 

On this day, people like my Charley didn’t fade into the background. Instead, they were the stars. And it was made possible by the generosity of the UT players who recognize that life isn’t always about them. It’s about cheering for others. It’s about celebrating opportunities by paying it forward.

Charley, of course, doesn’t know this. All he knows is that he was hugged by “Purties,” slapped high-fives by coaches and athletes, was given a DSAG Hoops for Hope T-shirt, and that he walked away with a medal and bragging rights. 

But here is what he does know. For a moment, he wasn’t “That Downs kid.” For a moment he was one of them. That’s all he wants, you know. He wants to be a “part of.” 

And for a moment, he was.

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