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December 22. 2012 9:47PM

Vin Sylvia: How athletes can honor victims of Sandy Hook


 

If you are a high school athlete looking for some way to honor the memory of the 20 children and six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School nine days ago, here's a suggestion: Make a point of being kind to fellow students who aren't athletes.

Not every kid can be a high school athlete (though the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, through its Unified Sports program, is trying to make that truism obsolete). Some have cognitive, physical or other medical disabilities. Some are completely healthy but don't have the skills to make the cut. Some simply aren't inclined toward sports.

We know that many of the children killed in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 did enjoy sports, either as a participant or as a fan or both. One of the victims, 6-year-old Jack Pinto, had a particular fondness for Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. After learning that, Cruz inscribed "JACK PINTO 'MY HERO'" on the cleats he wore for last Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. And on the day after the boy was laid to rest wearing a replica Cruz jersey, the player visited the Pinto family's home, where he tossed a football with Jack's siblings and friends.

It's easy to imagine Jack Pinto going on to become a high school athlete, and it's highly probable that others gunned down that horrible Friday would have gone on to play varsity sports as well.

But it's also likely that some of the 20, whether due to lack of ability or lack of inclination, would not have competed in interscholastic athletics. Certainly that doesn't make any of them less worthy of our mourning than it does of those gifted with a love and facility for sports.

Charlotte Bacon. Daniel Barden. Olivia Engel. Josephine Gay. Ana Marquez-Greene. Dylan Hockley. Madeline Hsu. Catherine Hubbard. Chase Kowalski. Jesse Lewis. James Mattioli. Grace McDonnell. Emilie Parker. Jack Pinto. Noah Pozner. Caroline Previdi. Jessica Rekos. Avielle Richman. Benjamin Wheeler. Allison Wyatt.

Some of them would have opted for other extracurricular pursuits instead of sports, focusing on music or art, on chess or computers, on cooking or video production. And some might have gone on to become more accomplished in their chosen endeavors than their more athletic classmates became in sports.

It's possible, too, that one or two would have passed through their high school hallways in relative anonymity and been ignored. Maybe someone would have stood out unintentionally because of a quirky personality and been subject to bullying.

It's nice to think schools and society in general are making strides enough in this area to make school bullying all but a thing of the past by the time today's 6- and 7-year-olds are in high school, though we still have a long way to go before we get there.

Making a point of being kind to a non-athlete, especially one who's shy or awkward, is a good place to start.

Think about the victims of Sandy Hook and who they might have become. Think about the educators - principal Dawn Hochsprung, psychologist Mary Sherlach, aides Anne Marie Murphy and Rachel Davino, and teachers Lauren Rousseau and Victoria Soto - and how they devoted their lives. And make a small gesture to honor them.

Invite the kid who doesn't get picked to be a part of your group project. See if the girl who always sits alone at lunch would like some company. Lend a hand to the boy carrying more books and binders than he can handle.

There's no guarantee that your next game or match or meet will be a success, but be kind to someone who otherwise might get overlooked (or worse), and in that instant you'll become a hero.

Vin Sylvia is Deputy Managing Editor-Sports, Photos and Features of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at vsylvia@unionleader.com.


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