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The Kids You Never See

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We’re sending more than 2000 underprivileged children to a Portland Trail Blazers game. Here’s why.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this, the Portland Trail Blazers are in a slump...a bad one. We’re not going to dwell on that. For purposes of this article it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter if the Blazers hadn’t won a game all season. This article isn’t about win-loss records; it’s about how the Blazers and professional sports affect people in the best ways sometimes, in ways nothing else can.

As most of you know, this website and its readers send groups of underprivileged children to see the Trail Blazers play in the Moda Center every year. It started 10 years ago as a generous gesture from a handful of people. It’s grown to the point that we’re now talking thousands of kids. We sent over 2000 last year and we’re trying to do the same this season.

Sometimes when the numbers are that big, projects get abstracted. We lose touch with individuals and start thinking in terms of quantity. That’s the danger of success.

Over the next few days I want to share with you a couple stories, not about thousands of kids, but about two or three. The tales aren’t remarkable...far too common, actually. I’ve heard variations of them repeated each year over the last decade. They serve to remind us why we do this, why this project isn’t about faceless masses but a deep-rooted giving to individuals whose lives could be changed in a small but simple way if people care enough.

I want to share with you the stories of the kids you never see.

None of these stories will be pinned exclusively to one child or one situation, as that would be a violation of privacy. But all of them have been related to me, personally at one time or another even if certain details are generalized here.

It’s not surprising you wouldn’t notice the youth we’ll talk about today. He doesn’t seem to want people to notice him. That might be a personality trait; maybe it’s half survival mechanism too. There are worse ways to negotiate a tough environment. His teacher has seen it before: the kid who sits towards the back of the class, who will never volunteer an answer, who responds in a bare minimum of words if called upon directly. He’ll participate to the extent he needs to but you’re not going to get to know him.

Except this kid is different. It’s December now, four months into the school year, and the teacher hasn’t heard a half-dozen words from him total. He does well enough on tests and assignments, but his identity derives not just from pushing people away but locking them out. Neither math nor literature, neither praise nor cajoling, can draw him out of his shell. It’s hard. No matter what he’s learning, you feel like you’re failing him personally. Four months without meaningful contact and basic human reassurance seem like an eternity.

Then one day, the teacher gets to announce something special to her class. They get to go see the Trail Blazers play...for real, no lie. Not just some of them get to go, but all of them together. Some parents will go along too as drivers and chaperons. The class erupts in cheers and a buzzing follows as she turns around to diagram today’s math lesson on the white board.

Suddenly a voice cuts through the chatter. When she hears it, she almost drops the marker in her hand. She’s that surprised. It’s him.

“That’s going to be a good matchup. Damian Lillard is a great player.”

She doesn’t turn around. She’s careful to keep her voice and expression neutral. Keep drawing. Don’t stop. Don’t break it.

“Do you like Damian Lillard?”

“Yeah. It’s not just liking though. He’s got this pull-up jumper that nobody can stop. He’s gonna score a lot. But the other guy is good too. They might each get 50. It’s gonna be big.”

The rest of the class voices agreement as she finishes and turns to face them. He’s not talking anymore but he is looking up, a rarity in itself. She nods and offers a slight grin. “I’m excited to see it too.” He nods back. She continues the lesson. Seven short sentences and a head nod have conveyed more meaning than she ever thought she’d see.

At the break, when the kids leave the classroom, she sits down at her desk. She covers her mouth with her hands as a huge smile erupts unbidden. She stamps her feet and pounds her fist on the desk in triumph. Let it out; the kids aren’t there to see it. This will be the first thing she tells her husband when she gets home that evening. “He talked to me! He really did!” As her husband offers congratulations and gives her a hug, she’ll break into relieved tears.

In no way am I suggesting every child we send will have a story like this. Most are just regular kids growing up in circumstances we’d consider less than ideal, making their way just like every kid has to. But this narrative is real; the teacher involved conveyed it in pretty similar terms to this. To some of these young folks, Blazer’s Edge Night makes a difference so far beyond the cost of the ticket that got them there it can’t be measured.

In order to find the 4-5 each year who need it that much, you’ve gotta send 2000. And guess what? Those other 1995 and their chaperons have a fantastic time too...an experience they wouldn’t have had without you and me paving the way.

Can you help us make a difference for some kids today? Even if it’s just one or two, it’s huge. Upper-deck tickets at the Moda Center are cheap and you order them the same way you would for yourself: online or by phone, with your credit card. Here’s how:

Head to the Trail Blazers website through this link: http://www.rosequarter.com/blazersedge/

Use the order code: BLAZERSEDGE

TICKETS ARE AUTOMATICALLY DONATED IF YOU PURCHASE THEM IN THIS MANNER.

If you don’t wish to order online, you may call ticket rep Alec Botts at 503.963.3926.

Tickets are available at multiple price levels, allowing you to donate as many or few as you wish within your budget. Prices range from $9 to $25 per ticket.

If you work with underprivileged children or youth, the process for requesting tickets is greatly simplified this year. Email me at blazersub@gmail.com for details and spread the word that we’re eager to help folks see a game!

Thank you for making this event a success year after year. Thousands of young folks have experienced the lights, sounds, and action of Trail Blazers basketball because of you. We’re all looking forward to making this another amazing year for the youth and children of our community.

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard