Who’s your number one role model? Most of the general population would list celebrities, athletes, and law enforcement officers. If you asked me, my number one role model would be Jimmy. He is a special education kid who cannot speak like the rest of us, but expresses himself in other ways and shoots great lay-ups. Not many people believe that a teenager with special needs can be an awesome role model. But then again, few people think that special ed kids can play basketball or do anything productive. I believe that anyone can accomplish anything (like play basketball) with support and determination, even if they face some day to day challenges.
Last year when I went to the first Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) meeting, I had no idea what to expect. I just joined because I wanted to add activities to my resume for college. Every Monday we met and planned social events for special ed kids. Then in December, our sponsors came and asked us, “Who wants to be a peer helper for CEC basketball?” I pondered a little bit; I was intrigued to see how special education kids could play, so I decided to raise my hand to volunteer. The practices began the Monday after winter break.
On that first day, I entered the gym and just stared. There were many students and alumni. My friends and I just stood around and watched. Then a ball rolled by and I brought it to the person who lost it and started shooting hoops with him. Later that night we stretched and then split up into the cheerleaders and basketball players. The basketball players were split into Team Purple and Team White. I started helping out with Team Purple. My partner for that night was Jimmy. We started warming up with some passes. Then we began practicing lay-ups. I first showed him what a lay-up looked like in slow motion and after that I gave him the ball so he could try. I walked with him through the process a couple of times, some on the left and right side, and soon he got the hang of it and was making lay-ups like a pro.
Over the next few weeks, we played scrimmages between the White and Purple teams. I trailed behind Jimmy and taught him the step-by-step moves for the different defensive and offensive strategies. Every time the ball was passed to him, I guided him to the next move. When he or anyone else passed or made a shot, applause rang through the gym. My heart leapt in elation seeing the joy and thrill on Jimmy’s face. When he was having a hard time, my support rose his spirits to make a couple of shots. After much practice, it was onto the tournament at Maine West.
The day of test and triumph finally arrived. Jimmy and all his team members were pumped up for the game. During the first game Team Purple played, the fans watched carefully and gave cheers of encouragement to both sides. While Jimmy played on the court, I cheered until my throat was sore. I walked behind him and told him who to pass to and when to shoot. Many of the times, he did it with little help from me. During half time our cheerleaders did the Viking Rumble and gave a show. In the third quarter, Jimmy was getting the hang of defending in a 2-1-2 formation. Our defense was strong and our offense fast, just like the other team. Point after point, the game kept going until we won the game by six points. Jimmy made a couple of the shots! After two more games the day was over; both the Purple and White team received a plaque commending their fighting spirit and their wins.
Jimmy and his team members taught me when I only expected to teach them. They taught me to ignore the limitations set against me and strive for my best. In practices, the players constantly defied my low expectations. Jimmy and his friends learned a new move or drill quickly and never gave up. If they did, we encouraged them and they tried once more. At every practice they achieved a new skill, like any other kid. I admire their constant effort to accomplish more than what people expect them to, even in the wake of their daily struggles.
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