All it took was four high school guys to happen to see the international wheelchair basketball competition going on in their high school gym. They were hooked. After all, as athletes themselves, they were able to watch a different type of athleticism — men in wheelchairs who let nothing get in their way of accomplishing a goal.
I sat next to these four guys on Thursday morning and as the game progressed, so did their enthusiasm. I shared with them the information I knew about the event and encouraged Ben Benshoof from Huntersville’s Parks and Rec department to share what he knew about the sport.
“Mrs. Swain,” they asked, “why hasn’t this been publicized? Why don’t people know about this?” And they decided to promote the event themselves.
So the Facebook invite reached out to their fellow classmates and plans were made to attend the USA/Australia game at 8 p.m. Plans for tossing football in the parking lot before the game, tailgating, face painting and of course, wearing red, white and blue…and Facebook entries “T minus 3 hours!”….and texts and more planning…and suddenly it was nearly game time.
I walked into the gym, honestly expecting to see those four guys and some of their friends, but I couldn’t find the guys in the crowd of face-painted students, carrying American flags and grouping together at the end of the bleachers. And I expected the crowd to dwindle — would teenagers really stay for this entire game? The crowd never dwindled, the chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” never quieted.
When the final score showed an American win over the Australians, suddenly the students headed down the bleachers, and headed to the athletes on the floor, shaking hands, congratulating them on the win, the two groups mixing and mingling, until they were merged underneath one of the goal posts, students in back, athletes in front and impromptu pictures being taken to show off the moment. Yes, I can safely say that many of us who watched were touched and humbled.
Off to the side, the Australian team got together in a circle of wheelchairs, huddling to give words of comfort and wisdom after the loss. And far from home, without a cheering section, suddenly some Lake Norman Charter high school girls integrated themselves in the circle, put their arms around the athletes and cheered with them.
Admittedly, the planning for this international event had to happen fast due to circumstances that were beyond our control. Charlotte was unable to find the gym space, and at the last minute, Huntersville and Cornelius found the gyms and our citizens have done much of the rest. There is so much potential for our town to do more next year — if they will return — and there are so many more moments to savor. Yes, I’m sentimental about last night’s moment, but I know this is something both students and athletes will also remember for a long time.
Good job, Lake Norman Charter High School. You are wonderful ambassadors for the Town of Huntersville.