Sports were never my thing. Not that I despised them, I just felt a little…meh, I guess, about all of it. Like many people, I couldn’t see why the big excitement or all the time and money funneled into it. Then kiddo—now 11, found a game so beautiful and sparkly and true for him, that he can watch 2 hours of it without blinking his eyes much at all. This sport, this one and only, b-ball, brownball, hoops…you know, it’s “nothing but net” as the NBA fast approaches.
He loves it and the NBA players so very much. He knows details about his favorites’ performances, and is on a first-name basis with many of them, though we haven’t been to a live game yet. It thrills his young heart to see replays of Wilt’s successful “granny shots,” and “Spicy P’s” last-minute 3-pointers.
He even likes to play the sport—almost as much as he likes to watch it 🙂
At first, I was just happy he was happy. He lights up a room. Then, the social possibilities of such an interest, I thought…are unlimited, I thought, eyes a-glitter. In came the basketball T-shirts, basketballs of almost every size and color, and as many trips to ball courts as we could stand.
We were lucky to find a basketball team for kids with disabilities through Newton Athletes Unlimited—The Newton Bears. It was a Saturday basketball oasis, and we loved it. The coach made no apologies for his differently-abled team members, nor did he try to make them “pass,” or be “up to snuff.” It was “come as you are, do your personal best, and not only will we accept you, but you will have fun.” What a concept, sign us up forever!
Each week I looked forward to seeing the faces of other parents who could relate to living with disabilities, who had been through the mill with their own versions of biomedical interventions, in-home therapy visits, sleepless nights long after toddlerhood, IEP meetings from the netherworld, and more.
At the end of the season, Athletes Unlimited hosts an awards dinner at a local hall to honor their players from ages five-to-adult. That group knows how to party! Through the game weeks and up to awards night, part of me held my breath—here was something rare and happy—a break from the loneliness of special needs parenting.
A few months later we decided to enroll him in a “typical” basketball clinic—a parallel universe with different rules:
- Look cool.
- Smile slightly, with a hint of enthusiasm.
- Yes, you are being scrutinized.
- Giggle when a child (not yours) misses the basket.
- Humble-brag about how many baskets your child made in a row last week.
There was no cheering for making it cross-court with the ball, and clapping would have been…juvenile. I turned into a seated, silent cheering squad. When kiddo looked over, I nodded my head vigorously and pointed to my dancing feet.
He barely kept up, and I knew how hard he was trying. I was so flipping proud! Maybe this crowd—who seemed to have no reason to sign their kid up for The Newton Bears, was missing out…it’s possible Hallmark has me brainwashed, but I think it’s true. At The Bears’ practices, it was good enough to be together, to have some fun and laugh, to know you’re not alone, to have some empathy for each other’s humanity…I mean, what’s the point?
TO BE INCLUSIVE, OR AT LEAST TRY…that’s the point.
Competition is a fact of life and sure it has its place, but having some extra kindness and understanding never hurt, and pretty much raises everyone who sees it. Autism, or any other disability, is not contagious, so why not give inclusion a try?
I would like to live in a world where inclusion is a given, not an anomaly or saved for special places and occasions like temple, church, or the holiday season.
We as a society have a long way to go, I think. But if you see a disabled or disadvantaged person, why not go out of your way to be a little kinder and possibly make the world a bit warmer? Just saying.
Ok, I’ll get off my soap-box now. But thanks for reading, just the same.