“Inclusion”…we frequently hear that word and we think of a classroom . . . A room where a child with a disability can be placed with typical children in order to receive services in the least restrictive environment. Often that is where it ends.
I don’t know that I have ever heard of an inclusion lunch, bus or even extracurricular activities. Why is this? Not that I am a pioneer of anything inclusive because my child’s disability does not allow him to be in those classrooms. That is not his least restrictive environment.
So as I began this school year, I wish I could say that I set out to make sure that he could be included in those obscure areas that sometimes we don’t think about as parents, but I would be lying. I set out as a mom trying to help her son fight obesity so that he would not die of a heart attack before age 20 and ended up finding something he could do that would be age appropriate and meaningful to him. I approached the baseball coach at the middle school and asked him if Hunter could come out and help gather up the equipment after practice. Without thinking twice, Coach Hart said yes.
At the first practice Hunter was a bit apprehensive but, after he got out on the field, he was very relaxed and, to my surprise, all the boys were very comfortable being with him. I saw his peers interacting with him like I had never seen before. They talked to him and, gave him high fives. They included him in the prayer and they encouraged him to come into the huddle for the Baron cheer.
I cannot describe my feelings of complete joy to see him interacting with his peers. Several days later I saw an e-mail from Coach Hart listing him on the roster as a manager! I was sitting in a restaurant crying because never did I think he would obtain such a title. I have received reports from his teachers that his behavior has changed for the better. At one practice he put a catcher’s helmet and face mask on as well as a batting helmet. For those of you who do not know Hunter, he HATES anything on his head or face! To even wash and brush his hair is a chore and touching his face is not an option either. He looks forward to going “to ball game” everyday!
Nelson Mandela once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
It is Coach Hart’s passion for children and commitment to excellence that lights the candle of acceptance in each child’s mind, exuding the sweet fragrances of worthiness, confidence, and self-esteem to name a few. He has empowered those children to dream big, achieve greatness and love ALL people. It is his willingness to share that light that has given those children the permission to pull theirs out from under the mountain of fear, rejection, failure and complacency and do the same.
Power is the ability to shine your light on the world. Greatness is seeing that light reflected back from the world. It is my desire that his light and the light of those boys on his team continue to shine and illuminate the path for all children who are continuing on this journey of life.
What started out as a small request from a worried mother has turned into a lesson of mutual respect for others’ differences, the golden rule in action and a friendship that doesn’t draw a line in the sand, but rather opens the field to include a boy whose life is forever changed because inclusion didn’t stop in the classroom but spilled over into the field.