When the gymnasium lights went out and a single spotlight beam flashed across the floor, I figured things were about to get good. But when a name was announced and the Hillsboro student body stood and roared its approval, it was better than good. It was deafening.
I wrote a similar column about this topic around a year ago. But that was after watching the Highland County Special Olympics basketball team play a game against the Highland County Sheriff’s Office at the local YMCA. I did not see the game the local Olympians played against another Special Olympics team at Hillsboro High School last year. I did this year. I’m glad I did. It’s worth writing about again.
Because when a bunch of kids can warm my heart and send happy shivers down my spine, if only for an hour or so, it makes this old world seem a whole lot better.
For the past two years Hillsboro High School/Middle School has hosted a basketball game between Special Olympians from Highland and Ross counties. The entire student body in grades 6-12 is released from classes for about the last 90 minutes of the day and they pack the gym to help give the Special Olympians a moment in the sun.
As their names were announced one by one just before tipoff, the Olympians came running out of a hallway and into the spotlight. Some thrust their arms in the air, others jumped up and down, one did a flip. With each name and arm thrust, the Hillsboro students nearly raised the roof off the gym.
It continued like that throughout the game, students moaning when a shot was missed and cheering when one was made. There was a large group of older students, larger than the student cheering section at most high school games, that stood the entire game. Cheering sections broke out elsewhere in the stands as the game played out. The Hillsboro pep band belted out tunes, Hillsboro basketball players operated the spotlight and scoreboard, staff members helped wherever needed, and through it all I did not see one student step out of line.
Three to four weeks before the game, Hillsboro cheerleaders Bailey Eastes and Emily Hawk started meeting with the Highland County Special Olympics cheerleaders. They plan to meet with them for a few more weeks.
“We actually love those girls,” Hawk said. “They’re absolutely wonderful and they’re so much fun to work with and so enthusiastic. It makes my week.”
The scene that played out Thursday at Hillsboro High School made my day.
We hear a lot these days about kids not living up to the standards of past generations. We hear – maybe we even say it ourselves – that they are lazy and spend too much time on their phones and other electronic gadgets. Some of that may even be true.
But what I saw Thursday revealed a different side. It showed me that a lot of kids have a lot of good inside them. There is something profoundly special about a whole student body of kids coming together to lend a little support to another group of kids that may not be quite as fortunate.
There is something special about a school staff and administration that sees the value of letting it all happen.
“It’s about basketball, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about all of us coming together,” Hillsboro Athletic Director Dave Dietrick said.
Kids learn in all kinds of way. They learn in all kinds of settings. Some of the things they learn are quickly forgotten. Some are not. I believe Hillsboro students will remember what they saw Thursday for a long time. I know I will.
Some Special Olympians will likely never forget it.
With school having been canceled or delayed several days recently, some might think such an assembly was a waste of time.
They would be wrong. Sometimes the most important lessons are not learned in a classroom.
Facts and dates and formulas come and go. The need to help and be helped does not.
Years from now most kids will not remember when the Magna Carta was signed. But they will remember the look on those Special Olympians’ faces as they ran into the beam of a spotlight.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.