Today I get to share with you one of the best posts it's ever been my pleasure to compile. Since students have gotten back to school we've had several e-mails thanking us for Blazersedge night. If you were in a cave for the last couple months, we all combined to send 90 kids to a Blazer game who otherwise wouldn't have been able to go. I wanted to share some of the reactions with you today.
I've actually gotten a ton of pictures along with the thank-you e-mails and we took some of our own that night but for reasons I hope you'll understand we can't publish any of them on the blog. In a basic, human sense it's important to guard these kids' privacy. In a legal sense it's critical as well. Many of these kids were contacted by their teachers who could be sued or fired if their students' pictures appeared on the web. Let me just say that the kids looked like...kids. That may seem an obvious statement until you read some of the stories below. Then you start to realize that it's not something to take for granted.
I'm going to relate some of the stories I've heard and then give you a couple of direct quotes (with identifying information removed) to give you an idea of what this all sounds like.
Some of the best stories actually came well before the event. An enormous amount of credit for this event goes to Dan Son, who works with kids in the Portland area. You may recall Dan started the ball rolling on this aspect of Blazersedge Night last year. I had an extra ticket or two to give away and Dan, a faithful reader, e-mailed and said he knew a couple of kids who would never, ever get to go to a game normally. I asked him how many kids he knew and he said he could name a dozen easily but he was really only asking for the tickets I had available. I asked him to hold on and put out the call to you guys to help. I was thinking maybe we'd get that dozen tickets to surprised Dan with. We ended up over 40, which then sent Dan scrambling to talk to people he networked with on a regular basis who also worked with less-privileged kids. Dan pulled in people from schools, churches, community agencies...you name it. We gave away all 40+ tickets easily.
This year when I asked him if he was willing to do it again Dan said yes. We were prepared for 40+ this time. So, of course, we got 90. This sent Dan scrambling even harder on short notice but he was up to the task again.
I actually had the pleasure of hearing from one teacher directly before the event. She said she heard we were giving away tickets and she was hoping beyond hope that she could get 2 or 3. She knew she didn't have any connection to us or any special reason for us to give her students the tickets but she said that her whole class was populated with kids in the situations we were talking about. She had three kids in mind specifically...kids who didn't talk much unless the topic was the Blazers. This was how she reached them. The thought of them actually being able to go to a game was too much to imagine. So, just maybe...could we help? Dan handled the details on this once I forwarded the e-mail to him but the last I heard we sent her and not just those three, but every student in her class that wanted to go. Because you guys bought those tickets we were able to do that.
Time and again I heard from or about people--teachers, students, principals, students--who were shocked, amazed, and in awe that we thought of them, remembered them, acknowledged them. We all seem to think that charities or the government or somebody will reach out to touch and/or help people. I'm sure that happens quite a bit. But the human touch is important too. The idea of someone coming to them and offering something for no reason other than wanting them to have a wonderful time and enjoy...that's a powerful thing and too seldom enacted. No forms, no fine print, no singling out. You like the Blazers? Me too! Here's a ticket, my friend.
Because of the timing of the event and the need to make sure the numbers were finalized before we distributed tickets much of the inviting happened near or during Christmas break. One teacher wrote that when he phoned a student and asked if they wanted to go to a Blazer game the first reaction was plain disbelief. Then when he got through to the student that yes, the offer was real he heard an enormous scream on the phone and then the student broke down on the spot. That wasn't the only story like that either.
Again, you made this possible.
Here's a highly-paraphrased quote from one of the chaperones who took kids. (It's paraphrased to eliminate identifying details.)
These kids are hard in every sense of the word. Hard background, hard circumstances, hard road ahead of them, hard shells around them every day. We only get to see inside of that exterior on rare occasions. When they went to that game everything was different. I took kids to that game. Every one of them was a kid that night. I've never seen that before.
Another paraphrased quote:
The old stereotypical thought was that basketball is a way out for these guys. That's bull. They ain't going to make it out with basketball. They have no illusions about that. But basketball still represents that other world. It's a world they can't touch but it's still there...
You don't realize how small life becomes when you're in these situations. People always wonder how small things like insults and territory and reputations can get so big to these kids. Proportionally they're huge. When you only walk the same blocks and see the same people and eat the same food and have the same arguments because you can't afford to go anywhere else or you don't feel safe anywhere else the world becomes so small and tight. They know there's another world out there. They see it on TV when they watch the team. It might as well be across the ocean...
You allowed them to participate in that other world at that game. They saw that it was real. Seeing the Blazers with their own eyes was part of it but another big part was seeing the people all around. Another big part was being in a new situation with the people they're used to being with. You opened this up to them. You made it more safe and more possible to think bigger. Maybe it didn't change lives. But maybe it opened the possibility of changing lives.
A direct quote about the wonder of things that we take for granted:
Most of our kids had never been to a game before. When the time out was called in the 4th and they started playing YMCA, a few of the kids were like "what happened? why are they doing this?" We're talking about kids that don't get out to these kind of events much. So all of that is to say, this was a great opportunity, I really appreciate you sending these tickets...
And finally a longer story with only some details removed to give you the true flavor of all of this:
First things...Thank you all so very much for making this happen. For all the weather related missteps this went off without a hitch. I can't get over how perfectly it happened today for our merry little band. I was worried that people weren't going to be able to show up at the last minute but we were at full capacity of 8th and 9th graders right off the bat. Everyone that wanted to come was able.
We met up to have dinner before the game and then make our way to the Rose Garden. The guys were happy to see each other after a week off and most importantly not be stuck in their homes. Stir crazy/boredom was the big topic over dinner. On the train ride in conversation switched over to the game. The kids seemed to know the most about Oden, Sergio and Rudy. The native Spanish speakers in the group were outraged that Rudy wasn't a starter and I think Oden is a bit more relatable to the average 13/14 year old then Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. They wanted to know about the players from Toronto who to watch and if it was going to be a close game. I felt bad for not scouting out the Raptors first. My basketball cred took a big dive for not having my normal amount of information. We talk about basketball a lot at school.
Back to the narrative, after we crossed the bridge they seemed get a little bit more nervous/excited. The guys hovered around me until they had their tickets in their hot little hands. The one thought that kept going through my head the whole night was how kidlike they seemed. At school they try to be so tough, street-wise, sarcastic and generally more grown-up than they should be. But tonight they were just excited and happy to be there.
During the game they were pretty quiet...I took the seat further away thinking that they probably would have more fun with their buddies without the awesomeness of having a female teacher monitoring their language. However it was sort of a moot point because they were transfixed, that sort of glazed over staring intently look that I normally associate with video games and TV watching. During timeouts they were watching the crowd, the big screen and the DJ. The biggest laughs came from the Greg Oden question/answer video and the Rudy Language Lesson. However they were pretty confused by the word...It wasn't until later that I realized that Catalan is his first language. As for the game I had a difficult time getting them to talk about it, I think they were on sensory overload and were just taking it all in. I could tell that they were having a great time...they were clapping along with every cheer...standing up on the big plays. It was a great night a real highlight of the school year for me and for the guys.
Thank you very much for all of this.
And I will echo that statement. Thank you all very much for all of this. You did well. We did well. If this community had no other reason for being but to do this event it would still be worth it.
I will tell you in advance that we will definitely do this again next year. Not just meet (remember our next get-together at The Agency across from PGE Park on March 5th) but attend a game and send kids as well. We're going to start planning right off the bat at the start of next season and we're going to try to do something that is going to blow people's minds...something that nobody will think we'll be able to do...but we're going to do it. Stay tuned and watch for news in the late summer.