About two months ago I had the pleasure of covering a basketball game like none I have ever covered. Over the years, I have covered more basketball games than I care to count, but none of them ever left me with the same feeling this one did.
It was a game between the Highland County Wildcats and the Highland County Sheriff’s Office played at the Highland County Family YMCA.
If you were there, you know what I mean. If you were not, you missed a chance to see what’s right with our community.
It all started back in November with Jordan Freeze when the Highland County Special Olympics basketball team (i.e. the Wildcats) decided it was time the team had its own cheerleading squad.
“I wanted to do everything I could to help the girls out,” Freeze said. “So, since my knowledge of cheerleading is very limited, I contacted Dave Dietrick, the athletic director at Hillsboro High School, to see if maybe a couple of Hillsboro’s experienced cheerleaders would be willing to help us out. Dave really stepped up and worked out every detail and scheduled times for four of the Hillsboro cheerleaders to work with the girls. It was a wonderful experience for our cheerleaders and I can’t thank Mr. Dietrick enough for everything he did to make it all come together.”
Dietrick was able to schedule the Hillsboro cheerleaders to practice with the Wildcats cheerleaders on Wednesday afternoons. Later, Freeze said, Dietrick described the experience as one of the most fantastic he has been fortunate enough to be part of.
It would seem that what Freeze and Dietrick organized, along with the HHS cheerleaders, for a few less fortunate girls would have been more than enough, but it ended up being only the beginning.
On Feb. 24, the Hillsboro City Schools invited the Wildcats to play their final home game of the season at the Hillsboro High School gym. That would have been more than enough, too, but the school went the extra mile. It let the entire student body out of classes for the game (so the Wildcats could play in front of a packed gym), the HHS pep band performed, the HHS cheerleaders cheered, and the student body rooted the Wildcats on.
Then, to top it off, the Wildcats went out and defeated the Ross County Public Schools Rebels, 24-23 – in overtime – capping a 9-2 season.
Dietrick called the atmosphere electric.
“I could feel the impact on our students as they cheered the Wildcats to victory,” he said. “It was absolutely awesome, and we were very proud of everyone who was involved. We often speak of giving back and practicing humility, and this was our opportunity to springboard those words into reality.”
Again, that all seemed more than enough, but Wildcat coach Nathan Boatman had another surprise. He scheduled a March 10 game between the Wildcats and Highland County Sheriff’s Office at the YMCA.
The Wildcats won that game, too, 46-43, and even though they may have had a tad of help from the referees, they played with such heart and energy that any other outcome would not have seemed appropriate.
During breaks in action, the Wildcat cheerleaders, with the HHS cheerleaders there to help, performed little routines to the uproarious approval of the crowd. At halftime the referees escorted a couple cheerleaders to a basket and let them shoot until they made, or at least almost made, a basket, again with the crowd cheering them on.
Then, late in the game, Wildcat Christian White was fouled. He did not get to play a lot and the officials let him shoot several free throws until he finally sank one. The grin on his face as the crowd erupted again was priceless.
“It was so cool,” said spectator Herb Day. “Christian White, the one that they let have like 47 foul shots until he made one, that was our grandson. There’s nothing better. I’ll tell you, I was touched by the game the sheriff’s office gave them, too. That was so cool.”
The players on the sheriff’s office team felt the same way.
“We had a blast. It was a good time,” HCSO Sgt. Danny Croy said. “I think what we did here today meant the world to those kids. But more so to us. It’s not everyday that we get to give back to the community like we did today. I mean, we work with the community every day, but I was tickled to death when they asked us to do this. This is a great idea and there’s going to be more to come because we had a blast, and so did the kids. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will definitely be a yearly event. We’ll make it happen.”
As I watched the game unfold, I felt a smile spread across my face. It was still there as I walked out of the gym with a warm feeling inside.
As newspaper reporters, more often than not we write about the more unsavory side of our community. It’s what sells newspapers.
But this winter, when the Wildcats came calling, our community answered. It went above and beyond the call of duty. It welcomed a group of less fortunate kids with arms wide open.
Each and every person who had even the smallest part in the Wildcats’ success this year should stand up and take a bow.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.