Highland Park Basketball Coaches Give Special Needs Manager Gift of a Lifetime

Highland Park Basketball Coaches Give Special Needs Manager Gift of a Lifetime
Courtesy Channel 7.

John Whitehead has taught social studies and coached basketball for 22 years at Elm Place Middle School in Highland Park,Il. In his own words he has had "one undefeated Championship season, players of mine who have played in D1 (Division I College) schools and nothing has compared to what I felt yesterday (Dec 15) in Bannockburn."

Whitehead put in team manager William Lipka at the end of the game. Assistant Coach Trevor Kahn who is a physical education teacher at Elm Place mentioned on a Facebook post that Lipka is a part of the STEP (special needs) program at Elm Place. Kahn has had Lipka in his advisory for three years and gotten to know him. He has gotten to know Lipka more so because of his personality than by being his advisor. Whitehead said of Kahn's work with Lipka.

"Watching Trevor teach William as an advisor should be documented in a "How To Guide" for all teachers. I'm proud to work with such a great colleague."

Kahn and Whitehead had talked about getting Lipka involved in something at school. Since Lipka loves basketball, they decided to make him the manager for the seventh and eighth grade teams. Kahn said "he is the happiest boy you will ever meet and has a great heart". Lipka's personality makes him one of the most popular students at Elm Place.

His jobs at practice include filling up the balls with air, putting them on the rack when the boys are done and cleaning the court. Lipka takes his position as team manager very seriously. He seems to almost be like another coach, Kahn elaborated.

"During practices, if I yell or give advice to the team, he reminds them right after me (for a good 5 minutes!). When he received his shooting shirt with his name on it, he couldn't stop giggling. He was (and is still) so proud."

Lipka is treated as just another member of the team. Kahn said:

"During games, he sits next to me on the bench, and if a player walks by, the first thing they do is high five William."

When they asked Lipka to be the team manager he was very excited. Kahn said about Lipka  "He attends every practice, comes to every game, even weekends, and cheers on our team."

Whitehead returned to his alma mater after trading commodities at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. His mom passed away when he was 16. She taught him about making a difference in the lives of others. His story is as heartwarming and as wonderful as Lipka's shining moment.

After running into an old teacher of his, he decided to go back to school to get his teaching degree and teach at Elm Place. Whitehead's part of the story has a Welcome Back Kotter feel.

Whitehead and Kahn had made the decision to play Lipka earlier in the day. They gave him a uniform and told him he was going to play. Kahn called Lipka's parents and told them that needed to be at the game.

Just to see the excitement on William's face when I told him he was going in was enough. However, it didn't stop there. My favorite was when up eight points, William turned to me and said, "Whitey, should I foul him? Kahn echoed what Whitehead said. "Our goal was just to get him in the game, we had no idea this would happen".

"Getting William in the game was giving him the gift of a lifetime" Whitehead said.

"He was thrilled to be on the floor, part of the game. It didn't end there. With a couple minutes left in the game, after about seven chances of getting William a shot, it happened! Our man William hit a 10 foot baseline jumper. No need to comment. Just seeing his teammates' reaction on the video says it all."

We are fortunate to live in a far more tolerant society than in past generations. The coaches and Lipka taught these players a lesson they can take with them for the rest of their lives. When talking about his team, Whitehead said:

"My boys have always seen William as part of the team. He plays a huge role everyday in my practice. He loves his whistle and is quite a presence on the court...To my team - you showed class, sportsmanship, camaraderie, and made me so proud to be a coach."

The moment is one that will live with Whitehead and his team forever. Whitehead has had the success that most coaches are measured by. He said this was the greatest moment of his career.

"Yesterday I was a small part of the greatest sports moment in my tiny coaching career. It was MY #1 on ESPN's Top Ten!" Kahn elaborated that this will be a lifetime moment for the rest of the team. "To our players; one day you will realize what a great thing you did today, sacrificing playing time and scoring opportunities, because you knew he may never get this chance again."

Many times it is the teachers that are inspired by their students. Whitehead finished up his Facebook post by saying.

"To William, you are my MVP! Keep smiling and never lose your excitement that you bring to me everyday!!! It's 3:00 A.M. (Dec 16) in the morning and after another practice and some family time, it all just registered. "WHAT A DAY!"

Sports moments often transcend final scores. To Kahn this certainly was the case.

"This is the reason I love to coach. Not only was this the greatest time of his life, but for John and Me, to see the other players, the fans from both teams, the opponents, celebrate William, was very special to us. It was hard to coach right after with tears in my eyes.

Credit goes far beyond Whitehead and Kahn. The players on both teams and staff, coaches and administrations of both schools impacted hundreds of people for a lifetime. Kahn finished his post by thanking everyone who participated including Bannockburn school.

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Tags: basketball

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