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Special night at LaGrange High

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was, in many respects, a typical night in the LaGrange High gymnasium.

Hundreds of fans filled the wooden bleachers on Thursday night, offering their encouragement and support for the players who were giving it their all.

With each made basket, and every blocked shot or steal, the spectators were cheering and applauding the effort the players were giving.

It was not business as usual in LaGrange’s old gym, though.

Last December, the first ever Special Night for Special Grangers was held at LaGrange, and the event was a massive success.

On Thursday night, the event returned for its second year, and once again it was a joyous occasion, with the special-needs students at the school participating in a game featuring two 15-minute halves, with friends, family members and classmates enthusiastically offering their support.

Mitzi Norton, the event organizer, was grateful that so many people got to see what she observes every day being around the special-needs students.

“I tell people all the time, these kids, every day, are so happy,” Norton said. “They’re just a joy, and there are so many people that don’t see that joy. Tonight you saw it.”

Norton said the students, most of whom participated last year, have “been so excited” in the days leading up to this year’s game.

“I had a momma call last night, and she asked what time can we get him here, because he was so excited,” Norton said. “It’s huge for them.”

Before the game, Norton introduced the players, the girls who served as cheerleaders, as well as the two special-needs students who were honorary members of the LaGrange drum corps that provided entertainment throughout the night.

Members of the LaGrange High basketball team were on the court as well, helping however they could, and they seemed to be enjoying the night as much as the players who were the stars of the show.

“It was fun, watching them make shots, getting the crowd pumped,” said D.J. Burks, a junior on the LaGrange basketball team. “It was just a great experience.”

Jordan Ogletree, a senior on the basketball team, said the night was an example of the way the students are always there for each other.

“It’s one school,” Ogletree said. “Everybody’s with each other. We support each other.”

At one point during the game, Ogletree held one of the players by the hand, helping him down the court.

Moments like that meant the world to Norton.

“What touches my heart is when you see some of these kids, like Jordan, embrace it,” Norton said. “It’s changing perspectives. It’s opening up doors.”

Alton White, LaGrange High’s principal, wasn’t surprised to see the way the students supported the event.

“It makes you proud, and it kind of reaffirms what you think about our kids,” White said. “They do a great job of supporting each other in everything. You go to the choral concert, it’ll be full. The band concert, and the ballgames, the same thing. They want to support these students as much as they do everybody else. It really speaks volumes.”

White said the game became a reality because of the effort of Norton.

“She came to me last year and wanted to do something,” White said. “She’d seen a group that had done a football game, and she wanted to do a basketball game instead. All I do is show up and enjoy it.”

While Norton was the event organizer, she stressed that it was far from a one-person effort, with teachers, parents, and students doing whatever they could to make the night a success.

“It’s a team effort, it really is,” Norton said. “It was everybody. You didn’t have to ask. Everybody asked, how can I help.”

OF NOTE: For more photos, check out Facebook.com/LDNSports