To those that play with or against my brother.

I almost cried sitting in the bleachers at my old high school tonight.

The sound of old pop songs blaring through the speakers welcomed me back home along with lots of hugs and questions about school. I chatted politely with people as I impatiently waited to watch the JV boys game. I promised Kellan, my younger brother, I would make it to a basketball game over break, and it was finally happening.

His 2 minutes of fame finally rolled around, and I was again reminded of how much I love the sport of basketball and the area I grew up in. Kellan has always loved basketball, but I wasn’t ever sure I would be able to see Kellan play in an actual game. Kellan has Down syndrome, and with no Special Olympics nearby, I always assumed that his basketball career would end just as soon as it started. I never thought I’d see him wear a Medicine Valley jersey let alone play during a high school basketball game. I believed his basketball career would consist of time spent with my siblings and me in the high school gym. I can’t tell you how many hours he spent running up and down the court those weekends, but I can tell you that basketball was (and still is) his passion. Watching him on the court today brings me more joy than you can imagine.

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That being said, I wanted to write this blog to really say thank you.

To Kellan’s teammates, thank you x100. Thank you for opening your arms and hearts to Kellan. Thank you for treating him with respect and accepting him. I have been out of school long enough that I don’t know all of you and you don’t all know me. That’s what makes this even more amazing- you’re loving Kellan even though you never knew my siblings and me. Kellan talks about practice and you boys more than you could ever imagine. The time he spends with you is his favorite part of the day. Thank you for being a support system. Thank you for letting him have time to shine. Thank you for always helping him when he needs it. He loves you so much; thanks for letting him truly be a part of a team.

To those that play against Kellan, simply saying ‘thank you’ will never be enough. You are absolutely amazing. As his big sister, nothing gives me more joy than to see him doing what he loves. I cannot put into words how much it means to me that you show him respect. You all play a huge role in helping his dream come true. Thank you for allowing him to shoot as many times as it takes to make a basket. Thank you for cheering just as loudly as the home crowd does when he makes a shot. Thank you for allowing him to occasionally foul and not getting upset by it. Thank you for accepting his hugs instead of high fives following the game. I have so much respect for all of you, and I want you to know that.

When I started this post, I mentioned the water works that threatened to break lose at the game tonight. As I sat in the stands, my eyes kept flickering back to the opposing team’s bench. You don’t normally see players cheering for their opposing team, but that’s exactly what was happening. Players from South Loup (the opposing team) were cheering louder and more animatedly for Kellan than some people that actually knew him; how incredible is that? These teenage boys who have never met Kellan were cheering him on and celebrating his success. Some even hugged him following the game. And this isn’t a one time thing; in fact, it happens nearly every time Kellan plays. The sportsmanship demonstrated by opposing teams is unbelievable. It’s something we can and should learn from.

I tear up every single time I see Kellan step on the court in a jersey. As he has continued to play, it’s become evident that basketball helps to bridge the gap between Kellan and others. It’s more than just a sport, and I am forever thankful that we live in an area full of teams that are supportive of Kellan and his desire to play.My only hope is that you boys understand how much of an impact you have on my brother. He is happiest when he’s playing basketball; thank you for allowing him to do so. My heart bursts hearing him excitedly talk about his games. You are all creating an environment of love and support that is helping Kellan grow. Win or lose, I hope you all walk off the court with a sense of satisfaction and happiness knowing how much your actions have meant. You all have my respect and love.

-RG

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